Massputer

Om Malik and Rajesh Jain have been thinking about a Massputer, a $300 device that

“should be able to do basic tasks like writing documents, Internet surfing, email and perhaps some business-related tasks like data entry.”

I am guessing that this is different to the much-touted “Simputer” of a couple of years ago, in that it is not designed to be mobile, ruggedised or adapted in any way other than to be affordable.

Om writes:

“The $300 sticker is vital- it keeps the devices affordable, and at the same time allows the corporation selling this massputer makes a decent profit. Gizmos such as color televisions, washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners were snapped up in large numbers once they were priced right around $300. The proliferation of mobile phones in the emerging world is proof that at the right and affordable price people everywhere will adopt the right technology. There was a time when a mobile phone cost $400 and a mere 10 million people had the service. Now more than 400 million phones will be sold this year and 1.4 billion people, many in not very rich countries, will make mobile calls. That is because the price of the phone at $100 is now affordable in these emerging countries. More users means the price-per-minute has come down as well. In short, everyone benefits.

The social implications of Massputer cannot be underscored. Popularity of cell phones and text messaging promoted social revolutions, and peaceful protests in hitherto turbulent societies in Asia. Philippines comes to mind. I believe the availability of a Massputer connected to the Internet will help develop more educated, more informed and more open societies. If rest of the world has to embrace the principles of free markets, they need the tools. Massputer is a perfect example.”

Unlike the Massputer, The Simputer and other projects to create affordable, accessable ICTs have followed the dedicated, simplified ‘information appliance’ design route, assuming that the societies that need access to ICT need robust and simplified products to begin with.

Sugata Mitra’s work at the NIIT showed that even in rural areas with little exposure to technology and lower level of literacy – people, especially children learned to use computers (albeit with ruggedized input devices) in short order with no training.

Ultimately, people who want access to information and computing power want access to the same as everyone else, not a ‘special’ user-experience which keeps them on the wrong side of a new type of digital divide. Om and Rajesh make a great business argument for the Massputer also – let’s hope someone takes them up on it.

0 comments
  1. Funny – you can already buy $300 “assembled” computers in India which perform all these tasks. The reason they haven’t taken off is low internet penetration and lack of killer apps for the average joe.

  2. Om said:

    lest we forget it is the $125 to $200 monitor cost which is preventing the sales from taking off. many people just simply gloss over that fact. i saw that first hand in action when there recently

  3. See also:
    http://www.niitholeinthewall.com/status.htm

    ‘We gave access to state-of-the-art personal computers to several thousand children in urban and rural India. The computers were placed outdoors, usually mounted on walls and, hence, often referred to as “Hole-in-the-wall”.’
    -Dr. Sugata Mitra

  4. victor said:

    RE>people who want access to information and computing power want access to the same as everyone else, not a ‘special’ user-experience which keeps them on the wrong side of a new type of digital divide.

    I have trouble accepting this. And I’m not sure we know why the first generation of Internet appliances didn’t succeed.

    Imagine for a minute your target audience is someone who wants to view the occassional website or send an occassional email, but doesn’t know how and just won’t tolerate the learning curve of Windows/MacOS/etc. This person could be in their 30’s, but could also be an older adult who wants to communicate with his adult children.

    If we looked at what people actually use PCs for, there’s a bell curve that includes email, web, digital photos, and a couple other things. Why not spend $299 for that?

    But these goals might not be mutually exclusive. For $699 we can imagine the machine makes use of some clever progressive disclosure, so when they’re ready for the rest of the operating system it’s there, waiting to be exposed through an Advanced menu option.

    I agree from a hardware point of view that the keyboard and mouse are ubiquitous and not knowing how to use them is limiting. But the general purpose operating system is not for everyone.

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