Almost unnoticed in the low-cost PC craze is the MicroClient Jr., a small, limited-function personal computer (PC) produced by Norhtec, based in Thailand. Designed for environments with limited space or extreme temperatures, the device retails for $85 without a monitor, mouse or keyboard. Norhtec has no flashy marketing campaign and has steered clear of the OLPC (AMD) versus Classmate PC (Intel) battle. And the company is treating the low-cost PC market strictly as a business endeavor rather than a philanthropy project.
Due to their fear of cannibalizing mature-market product lines, multinational PC and chip manufacturers have aimed their low-cost computing solutions at emerging-market consumers. Norhtec, however, has recognized a demand – even among mature-market commercial customers – for inexpensive PCs that reliably perform only a few basic functions. And they’re selling thousands of units. Customers include a Canadian diamond-mining company and McDonald’s franchises.
Norhtec’s strategy supports Clayton Christensen’s theory, widely publicized in The Innovator's Dilemma, that technology innovation will originate from the low-end of the marketplace and eventually evolve to displace high-end technology. While multinational giants are fighting to sell higher-margin products and protect existing product lines from cannibalization, scrappy start-ups in emerging markets are innovating with the low-end customer in mind and finding high-end mature-market demand, as well. Multinational technology companies that overcome their resistance to low-end offerings will be better prepared for the Norhtecs of the world, who will inevitably enter mature markets through the back door.
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