I have often talked about the Rs 5,000 (USD 100) Personal Computer in these columns as the cornerstone for engineering a revolution in taking computing to the next 500 million users. To build out computing for the next users in the worlds emerging markets, we need to think in terms of an ecosystem built around the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC). In this series, I elaborate on these ideas, looking at specific segments and how they can be transformed using low-cost computers.
There are two driving factors behind the 5KPC thinking. For one, the PC can be the vehicle for opening up new windows and opportunities. For the first generation of users over the past quarter century, it has done just that. Neither the TV nor the telephone (or the cellphone) can match the computers interactive platform which enables its users to connect to each other, information and applications. The PC has engineered the technology and productivity revolution in the developed markets in the past two decades, flanked by the Internet and cheap connectivity. So, the question is: how can the PC now be taken across the digital divide to the next generation of users?
This brings us to the second factor. These users need a solution at a much lower-cost even though the computer cost has fallen to USD 200 (excluding monitor and software), that is still too much for most users in the rest of the world. I think the magical price point for computing to become a mass-market phenomenon in the developing countries of the world is USD 100 (Rs 5,000). Today, even the cheapest computers available in India are at least 3-4 times as much. Of course, they have the newest processors, plentiful memory and more storage than can be imagined. Software by itself costs way too much Microsoft Windows and Office can cost as much as the computer itself. (Of course, most users have their own way around these costs piracy.)
I have long believed that for consumers and enterprises in developing markets, computers are not a luxury, but a necessity. Here are two quotes from a story in San Francisco Chronicle, about the significance of a low-cost computing project in Laos:
Right now, the villagers have no way of telling what the market is like in the big towns they sell their stuff to, telling what the weather report is for their crops, things like that. This will absolutely change that. Plus, they will be able to talk to relatives in America some of them haven’t seen in decades. Lee Thorn, who is creating the Jhai computer.
The important thing is for them to have communication, because every day they sell their ducks, rice, weaving and chickens, and every day they have to sell for less money than they should because they can’t know what the real price is down in the towns. – Vorasone Denkayaphichitch, co-ordinating of the project in Laos.
And this from a story in the New York Times recently on Internet access in Ecuador:
“In the late 1990’s, everyone jumped up in arms over the digital divide, but it has proven almost impossible to bridge. Why would access to technology be any different than access to education, health care, employment or financial aid?” Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy-analysis center, and an expert on Latin America.
Food, Water and Electricity are the basic essentials of life. They ensure todays survival. But they do not alter quality of life from generation to generation. In this context, the connected computer can become a passport to a better life, or a growing business. Food and water take of the present, computers can provide for a future.
Tomorrow: The Concept