Friday, 6 February 2009

a £7 laptop. I've seen it all


India are claiming they will be releasing a laptop that costs just £7. It would be truly amazing if this actually gets released for just £7. Anywhere below say £50 would be amazing.

In the west this just seems too hard to believe. BUt then as a developer I'm constantly aware of how the end users demand often dictate what gets focused on and thus what is achieved. In the west we're relatively rich so £300-£400 for the cheapest laptops is considered a decent price. But that's kept a lot of the world out of the picture.

It will be something to see how this all pans out. If you've got a culture that aren't used to computers then they won't have the high quality comparisons that we have in the west. They'd just be amazed to do simple things like word processing and learning with low spec machines with no outlay in software. Since the expectations of the consumer may be lower and they won't already be used to a specific operating system. It could be possible to specify a very low price point as a condition of the project to ensure no barriers to take up.

India would have a lot to gain if they became computer savvy as a culture and those behind the deal would stand to gain a lot of customers.

edit: 10:09 11/02/2009
A cheap indian $10 laptop has now been unvailed. I can't be sure it's the exact same one described above but the price is close enough. OK they've explained the cost will be more like $30. OK still mega cheap for a computer. The main problem is that there won't be a keyboard or screen with it. 

Yep that's right nothing to show what it's doing and no way of putting things in. That's what everyone seems to be complaining about, atleast the westerners that are commenting. 

I don't think it's such a silly idea though. My point is that I don't necessarily want to buy the keyboard or mouse or screen at the same time I buy the processor and what comes with it. since you always get what you pay for I feel this project has had to be really blunt about it's approach. I like the comment from some one reading a related article at engadget who says that since the device has a built in printer the concept could be that the school or university has digital copies which the student copies to the harddrive or a memory stick. The pc then prints this out on cheap recycled whenever they need something. The latest content could even be downloaded by the school, transferred to this machine and printed. The school might even provide the paper and cheap ink or something. 

Even writing this I'm getting to think about the practicalities. I prefer to think of the human using the tool and what they need rather than the tool itself. So what does the human need. While this all seems amazingly low tech to a westerner I could see it being really helpful and useful to some one who earns sy $30 a month. This then represents say an £800-£1,300 laptop to us. the choices made mean the processor and copmonents will be the best spec they can be for $30. Ratherr than shaving say $10 or more adding a keyboard and screen. 

I also think most people don't realise that the biggest cost for a laptop for many reasons is the screen. Particularly because it takes the most energy to run and also forces up the size of the unit. together with a keyboard you always get soemthing that's hard to fit in a rucksack. Yet when you remove these things then a machine can literally fit in your hand because the rest is all so small. It can also run for hours and hours because it doesn't need so much power and can standby more easily. 

So I can understand the argument not to supply one. I just hope that there are keyboard and video inputs. Or atleast usb slots that can handle both. If I had just $30 coming in a month I would buy the unit assuming I could get files into it and also afford to print from it. I'd be really happy. Then I might get a second hand screen and keyboard in a few months when I feel the need and have enough cash. They wouldn't be mobile they'd be say at home in my room but then I'd have a pc at home and a portable intelligent media storage device on the go. Not bad for $30. 

don't forget. Us westerners balked at the £200 laptop when it first came out. That cos we're used to luxurious devices that care for every whim. India is really trying to cut costs not just do a half arsed approach. They're stripping out every cost to find the most flexible solution. I don't know if it will work because details of the specs aren't available. The concept though, I think, has legs and would fit a market if it can be built. In truth I would rather manufacturers went down this route. I'd rather I could upgrade each component as I had the cash rather than having to get a whole new machine every time. Plug and play components would work for me. I think it would drstically change the market for the better. 
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