In one of its recent editions, (12th Feb ’07) Newsweek carried a cover story on “The $100 Un-PC” and how a product like this might fundamentally transform communities in Asia and Africa
Such a device may hold the key to connecting the next billion people to the internet (I know the same thing has been said of cell-phones but I still believe that given a choice (“choice” is important) a lot more people would prefer the larger display (and better user interface) of a computer for browsing, communicating and online commerce.
The story mentioned two prominent approaches – the first by an Indian start-up called Novatium which has pioneered a simple computer using cell-phone chips that connects to a TV set (and does away with hard-disk drive, extensive memory and pre-packaged software).
The appeal of the device is in its simplicity – the fact that it cannot do too many things actually becomes a plus – and large number of TV-owning families means that the only remaining barrier to go online will be a phone line (now available for less than $5 and within a week in most urban areas in India).
In fact after reading about the device, I am tempted to try one myself – and if it works – buy one for my parents.
Rajesh Jain, co-founder and Chairman of Novatium has thought up an attractive business model to go with the concept. He plans to offer the device as part of a lease deal (with supporting hardware, an internet connection, some application software and service) for $10 a month – at which point, I can see it will effectively penetrate the 300m ~ 400m middle class.
In contrast to Novatium’s thin-client model, the MIT effort – led by Nicholas Negroponte – has targeted the production of a laptop that will be as close to one that you and I use – except at a fraction of the cost. While this approach has its merits (it does not depend on the network for being fully functional) its performance may not be satisfactory and it may not be able to harness the full power of the network/internet.
While both the approaches have their pros and cons, if Novatium is able to get on a network (or find a broadband network) that can deliver the connectivity required for the thin-client business model to really work, its cost, ease of use and business model will, I think, trump MIT’s approach…
How can one have such a stable, omnipresent broadband network quickly? One way could be WiMax – which according to a recent IHT article might lead to as many as 10m-20m broadband subscribers in India within the next 3 years (compared to less than a million in 2006) – wouldn’t that be wonderful?