To touch the WikiReader

The Open Moko group are a determined lot. I came in contact with their smartphone efforts about a year ago when I was spending a good deal more time coworking at PariSoMa where their group had their meetings there. The phone they were working on at the time had a ways to go, but the people involved were quite committed to the project. It seems that just last month, they’ve released a stellar little product called, the WikiReader.

While at BarCamp Africa UK, Tariq Khokhar of Aptivate showed me the little palm-sized device that allows you to download the entire Wikipedia (sans images) to be able to look up entries from the device wherever you are. The battery will last for something like 6 months with regular use. You can read all the serious stats on Wikipedia (of course). The cost is $100 and they’ll mail you the entire Wikipedia twice a year or you can just download it at will.

Something like this is needed. My friend, David Sasaki long ago downloaded Wikipedia to his iPhone in order to settle debates when out drinking; the 21st century Guinness Book of Records if you will. This WikiReader obviously sidesteps the need to get the iPhone and risk potentially being RickPhoned. It’s great for all the aspiring intellectuals in my family who want to pretend like they know everything while on the go.

Using it, the device reads quite well in the sun. The touch screen, while not the most amazing in the world, works well. It’s a good size in the hand and is responsive. There are maybe a couple of bugs to tweak out of it here and there to make it a bit more snappy, but it works quite well overall.

The New Village Library?

Inevitably, I’m sure that there will be people who get one sniff of this little device and think, “Holy moly, we’re going to airdrop these across Africa. Knowledge to the masses!”

Is this a good idea? At $100 it’s a bit expensive for this kind of proposition. Even at $25 it would add up quite fast, but maybe not out of the question. Obviously, they’re a great deal cheaper than a full-fledged laptop and the power requirements are much more lenient. Of course, what happens if one were to toss a couple of solar panels on the back? Obviously the price would go up, but the battery life would extend out indefinitely.

It does indeed seem like it’s a good idea, doesn’t it? But how will this really help people? Issues in Africa aren’t due to a lack of information for people living there, as that is spread quite readily, but more due to a lack of outside communication. It’s a one-sided, one-way communication for some group from Northern America or Europe to dump something like this on a people.

The issue is that it’s short term, scatter shot thinking to just send a device like this to Africa. Yes, it could give knowledge to the next William Kamkwamba, but it is much better if someone comes from the continent, sees the device, thinks it is indeed a good idea and takes one back to share with people. Others see it, agree and have more sent in. That is more of what is needed, Africans making the decision as to which technology they think is appropriate for them. I believe the term often used is, “supply and demand”. I know, it’s revolutionary.