OLPC also designed a hybrid laptop-tablet called the XO-4 Touch, which includes some of the XO-3's features. That product is still scheduled to ship early next year. The XO-4 resembles the original XO-1 laptop but has a touchscreen that can swivel around and fold over the keyboard to make an e-reader.
As an alternative to the XO-3, Negroponte is not opposed to buying low-cost tablets and distributing them to schools. Tablets from companies such as Motorola, which have been deployed as an educational tool in developing countries, have shown good power management and no breakage in rugged environments.
"I am surprised how good they are, as they were not designed for [the] environment," Negroponte said.
Experiments have shown that tablets have made basic learning and computing easier, he said.
"The amazing result is that the kids are showing all the precursors of reading," Negroponte said.
OLPC will continue with hardware design on the XO-4 and beyond for the simple reason that there are now nearly 3 million XO devices around the world, McNierney said.
"That means two things: ongoing support for the existing customers, and ongoing engineering to keep the design current. Existing customers need additional units, spare parts, etc. and that need won't go away," McNierney said.
Components also must be refreshed every 18 to 24 months to keep using readily available parts and to keep the price down.
"That doesn't mean, of course, that OLPC needs to be the organization to do those things in the long run. That's the nice part of being a nonprofit; we do things -- like design hardware -- when no one else is stepping up to do them. If someone else can do them, we can stop," McNierney said.