SAN FRANCISCO — With the April launch of its Kickstarter project, one San Francisco startup is working to bring more computer power to the developing world.
Endless, which has raised $176,000 so far, hopes to overcome the technical and economic hurdles preventing people in developing economies from owning desktop computers. With an affordable computer featuring a new operating system, the company hopes to target the ballooning global middle class, which has recently seen extraordinary growth in Asia and Latin America.
It is no easy task. This is not MacBook territory, so pricing must be kept low. Internet access is limited as well: while the near-perfect Wi-Fi access we enjoy in the developed world comes with plenty of frustrations, internet in the developing world is even more of a headache. Power grids are also unreliable, leading to rolling brownouts.
So how does Endless think it can design its way around these structural problems?
The company started with three years in the developing world conducting research. There, they created solutions from the ground up.
The first of these solutions is an affordable pricing scheme. The computer comes in two varieties: one for $169 and a more powerful version for $229. These prices do not include monitors and peripherals, although the computer can be hooked up to a TV with an HDMI cable.
Next, the team needed to make sure the computer can perform without a reliable internet connection. Here is where that newly minted operating system comes into play. Several free apps are preloaded onto the computer, which can stand in for unavailable websites. If Wikipedia is unavailable, for instance, an offline encyclopedia can be used in its place.
That still leaves the important matter of electricity, but the team thinks they have got that sorted too. Endless sees its target market as one that has consistent but low-grade electricity. In a comment posted by the team on Kickstarter, they write, “Highly varying voltage or brownouts are super common, and we’ve had to design our power supply to be robust in those scenarios.”
Should Endless succeed, it will be doing both developing and advanced economies a favor.
Better technological infrastructure in developing economies leads to improved access to healthcare information, educational and financial services. Businesses in advanced economies, meanwhile, are able to reach emerging markets more easily.
This effort comes as both Facebook and Google work to expand internet access throughout the world. In recent years, efforts have focused on mobile phone technology, which has been seen as a cheaper alternative to desktop computing. With one cheap and practical new machine, Endless may overturn that assumption.
– Kevin McLaughlin