Intel showed off two notebooks based on its low-cost reference design on Tuesday at its Developer Forum in Taipei. The PCs are aimed at poor countries as part of a five-year, US$1 billion global program meant to ensure nobody is left behind in the digital age.
The latest notebook reference design is aimed at Taiwan, which is an emerging but by no means poor economy. The device is orange, comes with a shoulder strap built on and is meant for school-age children.
Earlier this year, Intel showed off the first model based on its low-cost reference design. The computer, in its own Intel blue, is aimed at India, Africa, Brazil and other areas. It’s already being used at a pilot program in a school in Nigeria, and coincides with the company’s WiMax initiative for wireless broadband.
“How do you connect the next billion people to the Internet? Not with fiber, not with wires—it’s going to be WiMax,” said John Antone, Intel’s sales and marketing manager for Asia, during a news briefing at the Intel Developer Forum in Taipei.
A number of developing countries have found that building wireless networks is much easier than digging trenches for wire lines, or hanging them on poles. Mobile phones are one example. In China, people with mobile phones already outnumber those with landlines.
The low-cost laptop design is part of Intel’s World Ahead Program, which aims to create affordable hardware, train teachers so they can educate their students, and build wireless Internet capability in developing and emerging countries.
The laptop PCs being designed for developing countries are based on an Intel reference design. The design includes wireless Internet functions that can be tweaked for each market by an assortment of companies. Intel executives would not say which companies are making the low-cost laptops, but indicated it was more than just one.
The Intel initiative also appears to compete with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, which is led by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC and a cofounder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory. The project has developed a prototype for a $100 laptop computer for use by students in developing countries.
The goal is to offer the laptops in bulk to governments and other education-oriented organizations. The laptop is being manufactured by Taiwan’s Quanta Computer, the world’s largest contract notebook PC maker.
Intel’s low-cost laptops, dubbed “Classmate PCs,” will be sold by vendors in developing nations starting in the first quarter of 2007. Intel’s reference design should ensure the price is below $400.
Intel shares the same goal as OLPC, said Eden, to close the digital gap in poor countries. The company is simply attacking the problem in a different manner, he said.
“We’re looking for the right solution, not the cheap solution,” he said.
So far, 3.6 million teachers have received IT training through its World Ahead Program, with 500,000 slated to be trained by the end of this year, according to Tom Kilroy, general manager of Intel’s digital enterprise group.
In addition to creating a low-cost laptop design and training teachers how to educate students in IT, Intel has already announced success in wirelessly hooking up a town on an island in the Amazon River, Parintins, Brazil, as well as at least one school in Nigeria.
-Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)
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