Intel Chairman Takes A Shot At $100 Wind-Up Laptop
India and Pakistan, with their millions of cellphones, are good examples of how a little technology can make a big difference. It also shows the possibility to successfully leapfrog over certain development phases that the west went through (in this case, wired telephony). Last September, Collin wrote about the $100 Hand-Crank Laptop, a low price computer that would be produced for $100 per unit and distributed in the developing world, with a target of 100 to 150 million units by 2007. But now, Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, is insisting that there will not be a market for the devices, calling them a "$100 gadget". Is he missing the point?Mr. Barett told journalists in Sri Lanka: "I think a more realistic title should be 'the $100 gadget'. The problem is that gadgets have not been successful."
The Irish Times (registration required) has a good rebuttal:
Plenty of "gadgets" that offer limited access to the internet and e-mail have been extremely successful - even addictive - from Blackberries to handheld computers to smartphones to basic mobiles.
"Successful" in the context in which Barrett uses the word is not relevant to the raison d'etre of the wind-up laptop. These are not intended to lure the road warrior, the wired teen or the general home PC buyer. They are intended for the developing world, where access to electricity is sporadic at best, and where a whole world would open to people through the ability to use the internet.
For an example of how this has been done with "gadgets", one has only to look to India, Pakistan or Africa, where mobile phones are being used creatively as community tools. Not everyone might own a mobile but small entrepreneurs make them available to individuals for personal calls. Entire communities check weather reports, prices for farm goods, and more using this basic device.
One can only guess that Barrett's grumpiness demonstrates that such a device may not just serve the developing world but ultimately find a niche with a more mainstream, developed world market too, where the lime green laptops will be marketed at $200 (166). At those low prices, no chip company will be making much of a profit by supplying microprocessors. Therefore, Intel undoubtedly would prefer you to go for the full-featured, larger-ticket model from your PC provider of choice.
Assuming the lean green machines work as promised, the first batch of laptops is destined for children in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria next year. Personally, I'd love to get my hands on such a device - just the thing for roving journalists who don't want to carry a bulky laptop but need to file stories and access e-mails. I am betting the developed world will embrace them too.
The United Nations has heralded the cheap laptops as an effective way to spread computers across the world, and we think they are probably right. Intel pretends that it is no price that matters, but features. That might be what matters to them, but to the developing world, features are useless if they can't be afforded.
Another probable reason for Barrett's reaction is that the $100 laptops will be powered by AMD processors because they are less expensive than Intel ones.