Richi Jennings

A crowdsourced $200 tablet PC

July 22, 2008 6:32 AM EDT
Help me write IT Blogwatch: in which we watch the wisdom of the crowds build a new hardware category. Not to mention a fascinating magnetic movie...

Michael Arrington sure knows how to cast link-bait:
I’m tired of waiting - I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one. So let’s design it, build a few and then open source the specs so anyone can create them.
We’re working with a supply chain management company that says the basic machine we’re looking to build can be created for just a few hundred dollars. They need us to write the software modifications to Linux and Firefox (more on that below) and spec the hardware. Then they run with it and can have a few prototypes built within a month.. more
And Nik Cubrilovic talks about the software:
The planned stack so far is to run BSD or Linux, with the Gnome desktop. We will probably take the Gnome Onscreen Keyboard project and adapt that as the primary input device ... Then there will be Firefox, running in a stripped down interface mode with a simple system tray showing battery life and wifi (and simple settings for the device). Plugins would include Gears, Flash and probably either VLC or Mplayer with open codecs for media.
This all stems back from a conversation a few weeks ago when we were discussing the ultimate web browsing/cloud computing client hardware. The iPhone is nice but too small, and most laptops are over-powered. more
Geoff Fox speaks of cunning plans:
This is no anonymous man-on-the-street looking for attention. Michael Arrington is an attorney turned serial entrepreneur. Though he's run through a lifetime's worth of venture capital, he's also produced some viable businesses.
"Just a few hundred dollars" [is] a helluva leap of faith for a product that only exists as a concept. Still, I like the idea. It's a PC for the simplest of road warrior applications--just a touch sensitive screen, no more. Carry it under your arm. Go on the web. Check email. Use Skype. more
Loren Heiny muses:
Let’s face it, the OEM community has failed to deliver a knock out mobile Internet device ... no one, no one, has delivered what quite a few people are looking for: An inexpensive, portable, Internet-tuned device that’s large enough to use on the web and light enough to want to keep using.
Since no one has been able to put it together I agree it’s time to look elsewhere. Is the community the right place? We’ll see. Even if a good reference design is all that comes out of this effort, I’m all for it. We need something.

It sure looks like I’m not alone in this. Since the first post earlier this afternoon there are upwards of 700 comments sprinkled about on serveral posts about this idea. Yep. People are interested. more
But Ross Rubin razzes a raspberry:
Michael Arrington wants to buy some silicon champagne with beer money ... [It's] an Internet tablet at a price point that has eluded some of the world’s largest-scale device manufacturers. Products that have been roughly comparable have included the iPod touch and Nokia N800.
Sorry, but you simply fall off the realism meter when you start making substantive comparisons between your $200 fantasy and an $1,800 premium notebook computer designed by one of the best engineering teams in the business. It looks like this will likely become another in the short history of prominent blogger-designed, open source non-products such as Dave Winer’s podcast player. more
Oh, speaking of Dave Winer:
I don't know about those guys ... they always get me with their April Fools jokes.
You always understimate how hard something is when you look in from the outside. Making something easy to use is a lot more work than making soemthing that's not, although to the non-engineer this seems counter-intuitive ... this does either seem completely utterly unrealistic or a damned good off-season April Fool joke. ;->
[But] thinking big is how you get big things done. Best of luck. I'll buy one for $200 for sure. Maybe even more. more
JP Rangaswami offers this perspective:
We have to keep experimenting with affordable low-power simple-spec sensible-form-factor open portable computing devices, we have to find the ten thousand ways that do not work in order to find the one that does. A project like this, when centred around a participative architecture and community, reduces the cost of failure, reduces the cost of the ten thousand ways that do not work.

Ubiquitous and affordable and usable connectivity is an imperative for everyone, even more so for the five-sixths of the world that have none of it as yet. On the basis of “a dollar of trade is worth a hundred times a dollar of aid” principle, we should not underestimate the value of providing such power to people, power that will translate itself into affordable food, clothing and shelter, power that will translate itself into health, education and welfare.

Human beings are incredibly creative, incredibly adaptive and are cram-full of potential. Initiatives like this may well help release that potential. more
And finally...
Buffer overflow:
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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 21 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email:

Previously in IT Blogwatch: [More at Techmeme]