Over the past few years there’ve been a number of attempts to make computers more accessible to people in developing markets. The OLPC project aimed to bring low-cost laptops to the world. Google and Facebook are attempting to make internet access more affordable. And Raspberry Pi‘s $35 computers show that it doesn’t take a lot of money to deliver a (somewhat) functional PC.
Now a startup called Endless has a new approach. The team has developed a reasonably low-cost desktop computer that can sell for as little as $169. But what really makes the Endless Computer unusual is Endless OS operating system which is designed to be simple, powerful, and capable of providing value whether you have an internet connection or not.
The developers are running a Kickstarter campaign for Endless Computers and plan to ship the first systems in June.
Endless has already developed the computers and the operating system (which is based on Fedora Linux and the GNOME desktop environment), and according to an article in VentureBeat the team plans to target Mexico and Gautemala at launch before expanding in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. The Kickstarter campaign is mostly designed to raise awareness (and a money for a marketing budget).
The computer itself is a funny looking machine with a red bottom and an eggshell-like plastic dome on top. The PC features an Intel Celeron N2807 Bay Trail dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, HDMI and VGA ports, and a stereo headphone jack.
The $169 model features 32GB of eMMC storage. Add $20 and you can get 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.
For $229 you can get a model with WiFi, Bluetooth, and integrated speaker, and a 500GB hard drive.
You can also pledge $224 or more to give a computer to someone in Guatemala through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The money pays for a computer, plus a keyboard, mouse, taxes, shipping, and installation.
You’ll need to supply a keyboard, mouse, and display for each model. In other words, while they certainly aren’t expensive, Endless Computers aren’t necessarily the most affordable devices aimed at developing markets. But it does have a few features that could help it succeed in areas where internet access is spotty at best.
First, the OS comes with over apps pre-loaded, including software that does not require an internet connection. While there’s a web browser, there are also games, reference materials with health, recipe, farming, and other info, educational apps, and more.
The user interface is also designed to be phone-like, featuring an app store, a home screen populated by app icons and a search bar. In many markets smartphones are more common than PCs… but there are some things that are easier to do on a desktop computer than a phone, such as editing spreadsheets or composing documents.
Endless says its operating system “is is not meant to be jailbroken and altered,” but the open source components are accessible via Github, but the Endless app store and some other apps are proprietary. There’s also nothing stopping users from removing Endless OS and replacing it with a different operating system (although that would make Endless sad).
Clearly the idea has resonated with some folks: Endless Computers exceeded it $100,000 crowdfunding goal a few days after the campaign launched. Whether the project will actually succeed in bringing affordable computers to more people around the globe remains to be seen.