Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman, has been talking down the “$100 Laptop”:http://laptop.media.mit.edu/ (which doesn’t use Intel CPUs) targeted at the developing world by Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab.
Barrett’s argues that such a device won’t be flexible enough to satisfy today’s users:
World’s poorest don’t want ‘$100 laptop’: Intel – Yahoo! News
Negroponte said at their launch in November the new machines would be sold to governments for schoolchildren at $100 a device but the general public would have to pay around $200 — still much cheaper than the machines using Intel’s chips.
But Barrett said similar schemes in the past elsewhere in the world had failed and users would not be satisfied with the new machine’s limited range of programs.
“It turns out what people are looking for is something is something that has the full functionality of a PC,” he said. “Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC… not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them, not dependent for hand cranks for power.”
So, just how capable is this device? According to the “$100 Laptop FAQ”:http://laptop.media.mit.edu/faq.html, it has a 500MHz processor, 1GB of storage, and a 1Mpixel display (~1024×768). That’s about as capable as my home machine was 3-4 years ago. That was a few years back, but I distinctly remember being able to install and update it with new software. Not that it really mattered, because most of the time the only thing I used was a web browser and an e-mail client.
The truth is, most people in the developed world these days would probably be perfectly happy with a web browser to browse the web and use webmail running on a “server in the sky” somewhere. Throw in an instant messaging program or two and you’ve probably satisfied a bunch more.
So, would the developing world really be that much different? A crank gets around the problem of spotty electric power. WiFi mesh networks link the computers to each other, and to a server at the school. The server could provide file storage and help with store-and-forward e-mail through an intermittant or low bandwidth connection to the Internet backbone. 1GB total RAM+storage would still be more memory and storage space than most computers had a decade ago and would be sufficient for a core set of applications.
I don’t think Intel really has a clue about what consumers (anywhere) want. Their stock price has been pretty much flat for years. The average selling price of a PC has been declining for about as long. The average selling price of Intel microprocessers have probably been declining along a parallel curve. In the meantime, the video card has become more important than the CPU in influencing the performance of the most demanding mainstream applications (ie PC games). Does any of this sound like a company who has their finger on the pulse of consumer’s needs or desires?