Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Innovation on the Desktop for Emerging Markets

A continuous stream of leaks this week has kept the imminent launch of Dell’s Inspiron 910 top-of-mind in the press. Dell will join the likes of HP, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and MSI with its entry into the sub-notebook market. This week also saw a rebranding of Intel’s Classmate PC by MPC for US-based education markets. This recent barrage of sub-notebooks in the press is part of a confirmed trend. An upcoming report by Vital Wave Consulting found that of low-cost computing devices (including desktops, thin-clients, handhelds and notebooks) announced in recent years, 60% were sub-notebooks.

Sub-notebooks have dominated media attention. The early low-cost sub-notebook craze initiated by the One Laptop Per Child initiative placed the focus squarely on computing technology for developing countries. Since then, the focus has shifted to second (or spare) PCs for accessing the Internet, primarily for consumers in mature markets. While some of the sub-notebook innovations such as extended battery life and ruggedized exteriors are important in an emerging-market context, one could argue that desktop PCs are a more appropriate design for professional or educational environments in emerging markets. The lack of easy portability provides additional security; the larger screen and a stationary setting is more conducive to a shared-use environment common in developing-country educational institutions; and, plug and play components enable usage of inexpensive or existing peripherals (monitor, keyboards), which keeps costs down. To date, however, desktop innovation has focused on cloud computing, which relies on regular and high-speed Internet access - still uncommon in most regions in developing countries.

While major PC manufacturers remain focused on sub-notebooks and cloud computing, the market is ripe for desktop innovations for emerging markets. A ruggedized desktop PC with lower power demands and the ability to withstand temporary power outages, built-in physical security features, bundled software solutions that are not dependent on Internet access, and compatibility with older model peripherals could find a growing demand among technology buyers who have not succumbed to the sub-notebook craze.

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