The New York Times has a story about CMU’s Raj Reddy and his efforts to take “technology to the masses” via a $250 wireless computer:

[Mr. Reddy] says his device can find a market in developing countries, particularly those with large populations of people who cannot read, because it can be controlled by a simple TV remote control and can function as a television, telephone and videophone.

Because his low-cost computer doubles as a TV and a DVD player, Mr. Reddy believes that he will be able to use it as a vehicle to take computing and communications to populations that until now have been excluded from the digital world.

What separates Mr. Reddy’s approach from other efforts is his belief that even the world’s poorest communities can become a profitable market for computers.

“I kept asking myself, ‘what would the device have to do for someone on the other side of the digital divide to be desirable?’ ” Mr. Reddy said. The answer, he decided, was a simple device that would offer entertainment, making it something that even the world’s poorest citizens might be willing to pay a sizable share – perhaps more than 5 percent – of their annual income to own.

“Entertainment is the killer app, and that will smuggle something that is a lot more sophisticated into the home,” said Tom Kalil, special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology at Berkeley.

With a small team of students and faculty here at Carnegie Mellon University’s West Coast campus, Mr. Reddy has built a simple control screen that allows the PCtvt to be used for audio and video conferencing, electronic mail and viewing local newspapers on the Web through a TV remote control. The designers have intentionally limited the computer’s functions because they are struggling to simplify what the users see and experience.

Details are available at the PCtvt website.

I think the idea is right, but the execution is flawed. For one, the price point needs to be $100 or so for the computer. I also feel a full-size keyboard is necessary. Rather than focusing on the absolute bottom of the pyramid, the initial focus needs to be people in the middle of the pyramid.

I have written often about the challenges regarding taking computing to the next markets and users – my latest Tech Talk series in fact addresses many of the issues.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.