4P Computing

Thanks to One Laptop Per Child, we are now witnessing a dramatic change in the computing marketplace - 4P Computing: the emergence of appropriate Power, Performance, Portability, and Price as drivers of technology innovation.

Join me in discussing how 4P Computing will empower emerging economies and entrepreneurs in the developing world.



Power. That's the real problem for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the developing world. Specifically, electrical power, and the lack there of. All the coolest ICT tools, from radio to computers, the very Internet itself, require electricity, and usually vast amounts of it.

solar power in Africa
$10 per Watt in Africa

Yet in the developing world, electricity is very rare and expensive. National electrical grids don't extend past the national capitol or major trading city. Outside of population centers, electricity is generated by local, even personal generators.

Often noisy, polluting, diesel or petrol generators that need constant repair, or very expensive and delicate solar panels that break or disappear overnight. Either way, electrical infrastructure costs usually exceeded the ICT investment, often by 2-3 times.

These two opposing forces collided during the 2000's, as the international development industry, local governments, and communities themselves tried to bring ICT to rural and underserved areas, with disastrous results.

Untold millions of dollars, man-hours, and even computers were lost in these ICT for development (ICT4D) projects when energy sucking computers starved themselves and their hosts, as they gorged on rare, expensive electrons.

We would still be wasting silicon and staff today, if it were not for one, very small invention that has literally revolutionized an industry: the Intel Atom processor.

Atom CPU: Disruptive ICT4D Innovation

In 2008, partly in response to the hype around One Laptop Per Child, Intel announced the Atom series of processors. Here was a processor that had enough power - 1.6 GHz clock speed - to do most applications that users deemed necessary.

Intel Atom motherboard

It also was very energy efficient - 2.5 Watts - and Intel sold them at very cheap prices to computer manufactures.

The power envelop in such a cheap and energy-efficient package was truly a disruptive new-market innovation that has shifted the ICT demand curve.

New-Market Innovation

Clayton Christensen, the originator of the disruptive innovation concept, says that "new-market" disruptive innovation is when non-consumers - consumers who would not have used the products already on the market - are now able to consume.

In the information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) field, we've been using a number of different solutions to try and bridge the gap between high-powered computers and the low-resource environments we want them to work in.

We've tried everything from only using older, lower performance technology like AMD Geode-powered computers, to reducing the number of computers involved to match the amount of electricity a community can support.

But these were only stopgap measures. Every day the grid-powered world got better, faster technology and everyone else got farther and father behind. We, and the communities we served, were non-consumers of the faster, better technology.

Our clients could not afford the infrastructure for modern computing or had to travel great distance and expense to use it in major cities.

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Making ICT4D Affordable

With its low price, and low power consumption, the Atom was doubly affordable in ICT4D applications. We could move from non-consumers to immediate, large-scale consumption of modern information and communication technologies.

The Atom's lower processor price meant that the end computing product, be it a netbook or desktop PC, would have a lower retail price. In fact, quality netbooks can now be had for $400 - less than half the cost of the cheapest laptops just 3 years ago. But these savings, while significant in isolation, pale in comparison to the power-cost savings.

The real disruptive innovation is the Atom processors power profile. The chipset is so energy-efficient, Inveneo could develop computing solutions that draw less than 20 Watts - the output of a battery - and free ourselves from direct generator power or large solar panel arrays. This drastically reduced the electrical costs of computer deployment, making ICT even more affordable.

A typical desktop computer can consume 200 Watts of electricity in normal operation. In Africa, where a solar power installation costs an average of $10-15 per Watt, that's $2000+ just for the power infrastructure for one computer. An Atom-powered desktop can use just 17 Watts, requiring only a $170 solar power investment - 1/10th the cost of comparable computing systems.

In fact, with Atom-based computing, the total cost of computer ownership drops below free. As we calculated above, even donated traditional computers actually cost at least $2,000 - their electrical infrastructure cost - while a new Atom-based computer and is power infrastructure is less than $1,500.

Inveneo Computing Station

Significant Market Impact

At Inveneo, we've switched to an all-Atom product lineup and our sales have jumped. We're seeing double-digit growth in our equipment sales. Our Computing Station performance meets the needs of our clients at a fraction of the absolute and total cost of traditional computers - even donated ones.

And we are not alone. Almost everyone else in the ICT4D space is all-Atom all the time as well, and from what I hear, also experiencing a noticeable uptick in product sales and project sustainability.

The Atom chipset also spawed the netbook, which has opened up computer sales to two new buyers:

  1. Urban elites in Africa and South Asia who can now afford a laptop for themselves and their families
  2. Mobile phone companies like Safaricom, who are selling subsidized netbooks to increase data network sales

In addition to the developed world buyers, they've helped drive netbook sales to $11 billion in 2009 - over 20% of the entire mobile computing market from 0 in 2007.

So for all of us in ICT4D, I'd like to thank Intel for the disruptive Atom processor innovation. Its a bright spot for an otherwise cut-throat hardware industry that often ignores ICT4D needs.

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4P Computing Device Survey for infoDev

| in 4P Computing

Back before there was One Laptop Per Child and the 4P Computers it spawned, we had to hunt for information on ICT projects. Finding low-cost devices or the initiatives behind them was a challenge only solved by infoDev's comprehensive Quick Guide to low-cost computing devices for the developing world.

I can remember pushing to get the Geekcorps' Desert PC listed, and the pride I had in our entry. Flash forward five years, and I'm now tasked with updating this list. Time has changed more than my involvement with ICT, its also changed the entire ICT field. Now, new 4P Computing devices are coming on line every day.

Yet so are great data gathering tools, like this Google Docs form below. Please let me know what's your favorite ICT device via this simple interface:




And be sure to spread the word far and wide via email, Twitter, and the like. You can even re-tweet the survey using this handy, short snippet:
Help update @infoDev's Quick Guide to low-cost ICT devices - please RT and add your favorite 4PC today! http://bit.ly/ict_device_survey
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Dual Mode Display Upgrade for 4P Computing

| in 4P Computing

Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qi has a stunning gift for 4P Computing this Christmas. In December she will start production on the 3qi, a revolutionary new display technology just for 10-inch netbooks.

going to Africa
Mary Lou & her new 3qi screen

Imagine reading a computer screen in bright African daylight that has 3x better resolution that what you're looking at right now. A screen that reflects light, just like paper, with similar high contrast and ease on the eyes. And when in that reflective mode, adds over an hour to your netbook battery life.

This is the promise of Pixel Qi's new dual mode 10-inch netbook display, the 3qi.

Based on the OLPC XO-1 dual mode screen, the 3qi can go from full color to black and white reflective mode at the flip of a switch. In that reflective mode, the laptop screen's back light is turned off, which greatly reduces power consumption and in the case of 3qi, greatly increases resolution and therefore readability. Here's a comparison with other screens.

In a recent interview with Mary Lou Jepsen, she revealed that the 3qi screens are going into production in December. This means we should be seeing dual screen laptops for sale in early 2010. But she also said that 3qi screens can be retrofitted into standard 10-inch netbooks that use 40 pin LDDS connectors in about 10 minutes.

While Pixel Qi isn't set up to sell individual screens, she was intrigued by the idea of a distributor selling just the screens, which could herald a flourishing of hardware retrofitting. That HP Mini which you now shield from any glare? Imagine a 10 minute retrofit that gives you full daylight readability.

This is the Pixel Qi promise I can't wait to be fulfilled.

Today I went to the Wuse Market in Abuja, Nigeria to check on the ability of entrepreneurs to find business opportunities using 4P Computing platforms. I found an innovative mix of using computing power to enable mobile phone content, at a profit.

Young men who invested in laptops are selling music, movies, and ringtones to market visitors at a tidy markup. Now ringtones and music sales is not new. Back in 2004, I heard of techies in the wilds of Mali selling ringtones and I got a few Gig of African tunes for a few bucks at a Senegalese cyber cafe.

What I found innovative was the movie sales.

going to Africa
Making money from movies in Nigeria

The entrepreneurs had a selection of movies, or you could buy your own VCD or DVD and have them convert it into a video file. But why pay to convert a VCD or DVD? Wouldn't you already have a compact disk player, or if you're wanting to convert to a file, your own computer?

It seems people do have their own computer on which they want to watch movies, but this computer cannot convert them from VCD or DVD to .avi or .mp4, as its a mobile phone. Yes, people pay to convert VCD's and DVD's into files watchable on a smartphone.

Charles, the young techie I spoke with, said he makes around 4,000 Naira a day in profit with his laptop, or about $20 of ringtones, movies, and music. At that rate, he's looking at about a 4 month payback period on the laptop purchase. Maybe a month more if you take in his anti-virus expenses - software and every other day software update and laptop cleaning at a cyber cafe.

Still, a quick way to pay for a new laptop.

HP Mini Note: 4P Computing Perfection

| in 4P Computing

Recently, the famed technology writer Steven Levy submitted his gadget list for 2009. His second request? One Laptop Per Adult Computer:

I was skeptical about the XO at first but was pleasantly surprised by its ruggedness, screen quality, antenna sensitivity, and software, which treats every app as an invitation to collaborate. Yes, it's great that OLPC wants to sell these in bulk to kids in developing nations, but I'd like to see a consumer company license its innovations to make an adult-safe version (with a real keyboard) for the price of an iPod classic.

Now doesn't that sound like he's really asking for a 4P Computer? A highly portable, power -efficient, appropriate performance laptop with a reasonable price? I would like to present Steven with his perfect 4PC now. May I introduce the HP Mini Note Netbook. This is the 4P Computing category killer we have all been waiting for. Recently, I bought one as an adult XO experience, and I'm quite impressed.

  1. The 1035NR version has the look and feel of a real laptop, just shrunk. Its case and keyboard are stylish - well past the cheap plastic feel of the Asus and approaching a Vaio.
  2. The 8Gig solid state drive, expandable with SD cards, can withstand heat, dust, and shocks better than spinning hard disks.
  3. It runs Windows XP or Ubuntu 8.10 with ease. I even have it dual booting - XP for her, Ubuntu for me.
  4. At $400 it is within the price range of business people in the developing world, and close to the XO laptop's G1G1 price.
  5. Sadly, its 3 hour (max) battery life is nothing like the XO, and its screen is too glossy and weak for sunlight reading.

So while Steven Levy might continue waiting for the perfect adult XO, I would recommend the rest of us go with a HP Mini Note. You'll not find a better "netbook" out there. I know, looked till the wife called out "just buy one already!"

Earlier this month, I had the luxury of inspecting a new Omatek Smartbook at the Ministry of Education in Ghana. The Smartbook is a low-cost laptop aimed at the education market, and with one look, you'l know its an XO laptop derivative:

It also happens to be one of the many 4P Computers that are coming out of the developing world. Not content to leave the 4PC market to Asus, these local computer manufactures are making their own low-cost, highly-portable, power-efficient, and performance-relative computers for local and regional markets.

Omatek Computers is a Nigerian company with a computer assembly factory in Ghana. This allows Omatek to produce computers tax free for Ghana and Nigeria, within certain quotas, giving it a competitive advantage over international vendors.

Add in the reference designs shared freely by the chipset manufacturers and local companies like Omatek are the next wave of real innovation the in 4P Computing market - more creative than Intel or OLPC, and over the long term, more game-changing.

As soon as one of these vendors realizes the true untapped market - parents who want to give their children an educational edge - you will see an explosion in local design and assembly. Just the employment, investment, and empowerment that the developing world needs.

Three years ago, the IT industry was shocked with a radical idea - a "$100 laptop" designed specifically for education in the developing world. Price would be low and yet quality high, through innovative design mixed with low-cost components, and sales would be focused exclusively on the developing world.

This heretical bombast upset the longstanding computer manufacturing tradition to keep adding functions to maintain high prices in the developed world, while ignoring the developing world. The revolution was lead by One Laptop Per Child and its visionary founder, Nicholas Negroponte, and we now have a whole plethora of revolutionaries - from the upstart Asus to the goliath Intel - who are developing "4P Computers" in response to OLPC's iconic XO Laptop.

4P Computing is a new class of appropriate technology - computing power, performance, portability, and price specificity designed for the realities and markets of the developing world.

Now join Wayan Vota, an expert on ICT in the developing world, in an overview of this revolution, the resulting 4PC's, and their impact on the whole information and communication technology industry:


A special thanks to Alexius International for creating this video.

With the plethora of new 4PC's (computer power, performance, price, and portability perfectly suited for the developing world), coming out of Computex this year, you might be wondering who is the current market leader. Personally, I would have to say its Asus with its popular Eee PC line.

Now that may surprise those that know me as a One Laptop Per Child fanboy, but as I told the Economist in its article "The rise of the low-cost laptop":

By raising the very possibility of a $100 laptop, the XO presented the industry with a challenge. Wayan Vota, founder of OLPCNews.com, an independent website that follows the project, calls the XO a "harbinger of an entirely new class of computers".
As such a harbinger, OLPC took the concept of 4P Computing, first conceptualized by the Simputer, and made it a practical reality with the XO laptop. But in the many missteps we chronicled on OLPC News, it never really commercialized its lead.

Asus has. It took Nicholas Negroponte's basic "$100 laptop" idea, and according to PC Magazine's "Asus Makes Another Eee PC Wave" article, commercialized it beyond anyone's expectations:

"We forecast sales of Eee PCs to double to 10 million units in 2009 with growing demands from both developed and emerging countries," said Jerry Shen, the CEO of Asus. According to a recent report from IDC, Asus shipped around 1.4 million notebooks in the first quarter of 2008 and ranked No.8 in terms of market share.

"In terms of worldwide shipments, it is the first time for a Taiwan IT brand to create such a huge impact in the global market by a single product," said Dickie Chang, the Personal Computing Solutions Analyst for IDC.
Now this doesn't mean that Asus will be the 4PC leader of tomorrow. In fact, the mantle may shift as early as this fall, as other players enter the market. Rumors and reality have everyone from HP to Dell to Toshiba, along with several come-from-nowhere candidates (like Asus, 6 months ago), jumping into the fray.

Only one thing is certain: The XO and its direct competitor, the Classmate PC, are, sadly, not going to be in the lead.

Now that One Laptop Per Child has brought the 4P Computing vision into reality, and Asus proved its market with the Eee PC, expect to see an amazing plethora of form factors at this year's Computex that ascribe to the power, performance, price, and portability required by the developing world.


Mary Lou Jepsen with her XO laptop

But don't take my learned opinion on the matter, just listen to Mary Lou Jepsen, inventor of the XO laptop's dual mode screen:

So many new machines are coming out about the size of the XO laptop. I've heard that 50 distinct different laptop models will be introduced at Computex (in Taiwan) alone in early June. These machines use screens between 7-10″ diagonals - and have been slapped together rather quickly to capitalize on the momentum first created by One Laptop per Child.
Now she sees the new 4PC entrants being high on price, and they are. The cheapest 4PC laptops that I've seen are still around $450 for the base models. Yet, I must take exception to Jepsen's claim that $450 is double the XO price.

For any retail purchase, where pricing really matters, the XO is at least $300 on eBay and $400+ if purchased through the Give One Get One process. OLPC has set the price floor at $400, for better or worse. But I do have to agree with Mary Lou's overall vision. She and I can both celebrate this:
At the very least, we should have extremely low-power, sunlight readable, high resolution screens in these and other laptops. Pixel Qi is working towards this and we will announce some of our partners soon.
Thanks! It will not be a moment too soon for all of us interested in applicable technology for the developing world.

Last August, I crowded a few friends into a Japanese restaurant in Silicon Valley to talk about technology in the developing world. Back then, the discussion swirled around One Laptop Per Child, as it was the most visible manifestation of our collective drive to spread appropriate information and communication technology beyond the world's elite.


The first 4PC entrant

That's because three years ago, Nicholas Negroponte stunned the technology industry and the development community with an amazing idea: One Laptop Per Child - a rugged yet low-cost computing device, the XO laptop, can empower primary education in the developing world.

His idea that low-power, appropriate performance, highly portable, and low-priced computers were not only possible, but could also radically change education in the developing world and computer manufacturing in the developed world was an instant hit with Presidents of the Global South.

While the global telecommunications industry was quick to dismiss his idea as folly, as I told the Economist in its article "The rise of the low-cost laptop", they did not laugh long:

By raising the very possibility of a $100 laptop, the XO presented the industry with a challenge. Wayan Vota, founder of OLPCNews.com, an independent website that follows the project, calls the XO a "harbinger of an entirely new class of computers".

As such a harbinger, OLPC took the concept of 4P Computing, first conceptualized by the Simputer, and made it a practical reality with the XO laptop. But in the many missteps we chronicled on OLPC News, it never really commercialized its lead. Instead we are witnessing a dramatic change in the low-cost laptop marketplace.

New low-cost laptops, 4P Computers, are popping up daily so I am hoping to reconvene a similar thoughtful discussion next week in San Francisco, but this time, OLPC will be but one option for us to talk about. Now not a day goes by without another announcement of a new laptop in the OLPC space with entrants from the practical Asus Eee PC to the seemingly comical Van Der Led "Jisus laptop".

4P Computing

What is "4P Computing"? Its a simple acronym to describe these new computing devices that are now responding to four market requirements of the developing world, Power, Performance, Portability, Price. 4P Computing, or 4PC's, is a better term than Intel's "netbook" or the industry's UMPC (ultra-mobile PC) and ULPC (ultra low-cost PC), because the term "4P Computing" leaves open the form factor and focuses on what really matters:

Power

In the developing world, grid electricity is rare, and generator power is shockingly expensive. Just listen to Michail Bletsas talk about the Negroponte-financed Cambodian school that inspired OLPC:

The largest operating expense for that school is the diesel fuel for the generator at this point in time. That includes airfare and living expenses for the volunteer teachers that teach there. That includes computers, amortized over 5 years. That includes building and maintaining the school. Getting diesel fuel to power the generator is the biggest ongoing operating expense.
To reach any level of market penetration, computers must be highly energy efficient, mainly to allow them to run off solar or other alternate energy sources, including human power. High energy efficiency also reduces heat waste, negating the need for a fan or other dust openings in the form factor, increasing processor lifespan.

sugar on classmate pc
Measuring Sugar on the Clasmmate


Performance

If you look at any cybercafé in the developing world, you'll see people actively engaged with computers, but only using a few applications. Web browsing, including web-email and video watching, listening to MP3's, creating documents, and doing light calculations. These activities do not require high processing resources. In fact, the more progressive Internet cafés are using thin clients sharing a single processor.

What people do want is easy-to-use hardware and software that does not need constant maintenance. Specifically, software that resists viruses, the bane of any beginner user who doesn't understand the real malice lurking online. Oh and software that is essentially free.

Yet, speed is not a major concern when Internet speeds are measured in Kbs, not Mbs. In addition, many cultures measure time in days or even seasons, so microseconds and even seconds are not fretted over. For all those that bemoan Sugar's speed, the usual response I hear overseas is: "What's your hurry?"

Portability

This type of computing device must be portable. That means both lightweight and small enough to carry around in a backpack or under a child's arm, and yet rugged enough to survive such portability on a daily basis.

Ruggeness extends from a strong physical design, down to water and dust resistant cases, solid-state memory, and screens that can be read in daylight. Yet weight cannot exceed a few pounds with 2 kilograms the maximum upper limit. At that point both the physical effort to carry the machine and its mass if dropped, make it impractical for developing world environments where dedicated computer rooms or home offices are rare.

There, most activity happens in a communal setting, be it the living room, dining room table, or front porch. Computing will need to bend to this model.

olpc asus eee kids
Happy $400 Asus Eee PC users

Price

Why did Nicholas Negroponte start with the "$100 laptop" moniker? Because people understand price, they respond to a barrier breaking move, and $100 is a nice number to dream about. While $100 is still a dream for OLPC, even the $400 G1G1 reality has set a new price point.

At $400, the growing middle class in Africa, Asia, and South America can buy their first computer, no matter what Annette Jump at Gartner says, $400 may be a month's salary to many, but computers were a month's salary in the US until not too long ago, and that didn't slow adoption. Add in computing as a way to improve children's education, and as any parent will tell you, price becomes secondary.

But price still matters. At $400 or less the developing world makert will expand rapidly and a whole other market emerges. As G1G1 proved first, at least 81,000 people in America and Canada will buy a laptop, if only to tinker with it. Asus has taken that idea and expanded it with the Eee PC to about 500,000 laptops last year with a 3.1 million goal for 2008.

4P Computing Players

Borrowing liberally from the Laptop Mag low-cost laptop cheat sheet, I've made the following comparison of the current 4P Computing players:

4PC NamePowerPerformPortabilityPrice
Asus Eee PCNoYes
YesYes
Classmate/2Go PCNoYesNoYes
Elonex OneYesYesYesYes
Everex CloudbookYesYesNoYes
HP Mini-Note PCNoYesNoNo
Norhtec GeckoYesYesYesYes
OLPC XO-1YesYesYesYes

No matter if you agree with my new 4PC tag line, I think we can all agree that this ever-expanding list of computing options realizes one of the dreams that both Nicholas Negroponte and I share: showing technology companies that there is both a mission and a market in the developing world.

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