The next big thing in tech: The desktop computer (yes, really)

Story highlights

  • Endless Computers has produced a simplified, robust and affordable desktop aimed at emerging market consumers
  • The company said its $169 product is designed to be hooked up to a TV screen and can be used anywhere
  • Endless designed its own operating system; one that was highly functional but could work with cheap processors
  • The Endless unit is preloaded with a full encyclopedia, recipes, educational lectures and health information

(CNN)You will see plenty of smartphones in the developing world and you'll see plenty of TVs; but you're unlikely to see desktop computers in remote areas.

Poor internet connectivity, uncertain power supply and a simple lack of money have meant that billions have been locked out of the knowledge economy.
    Matt Dalio, CEO of Endless Computers, wants to change all of that with the first simplified, robust and affordable desktop aimed at emerging market consumers.
    Dalio told CNN he got the idea to create a $169 computer while he was traveling and noticed that, while most homes did not have a desktop computer, they often had an HD screen.
    "It was one of those micro-epiphanies," he said. "I was in India and I looked over at a television and then I looked at my hand and there was a phone in it and I thought why not connect the two?
    "While smartphones may be sweeping through emerging markets, a computer is still the thing that you and I sit down to every day to access the knowledge economy," he said. "The only difference between a smartphone and a computer is the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse and the operating system."

    Reinventing the wheel

    Despite the best efforts to bring affordable technology to the developing world, from radios powered by clockwork to water pumps with few moving part, designing new systems from scratch is like reinventing the wheel.
    And like most designs for new wheels, they often end up being round.
    "If I'd known then what I know now," Dalio said of the three-year journey to develop possibly the world's most pared back desktop.
    "Initially I thought we're going to take Android, put it on a smartphone processor and how hard could it be?" he said. "And when we went into hardware how hard could that be? We're basically taking an off-the-shelf board and slapping two pieces of plastic around it.
    "The real challenge we found was that no existing operating system worked."

    Software a hard problem to solve

    Windows, he said, was too expensive and doesn't run on cheap processors, Android is fundamentally a mobile system, Chrome requires connectivity, and Linux is too hard to use.
    "We realized we had to build an operating system, but ignorance is a powerful tool."
    After searching for the right development team (Endless eventually came up with a Linux-based operating system equipped with a new and easier-to-use interface) and launching a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than its $100,000 target in record time, Endless plans to go on sale in Mexico in May.
    Equipped with app-based software and hardware that can cope with an uncertain power supply, Endless comes in a 32G and 500GB version both powered by 2GB of RAM.
    The idea is to effectively encapsulate the internet for consumers beyond the range of the net. Each unit comes pre-loaded with a full encyclopedia, recipes, educational lectures and health information.
    "The single most popular application is Wikipedia," he said. "We are planning on adding software with a focus on farming; in many places people are cash poor but that doesn't mean they don't have assets.
    "When a cow, for instance, gets sick it's a real problem. That cow's health can sometimes be more important than their own child's because the fortune of the whole family rests on that cow.
    "Information is so powerful ... what we want to do is to fill this product with the information that's relevant to their lives," Dalio said. "No one in San Francisco is building a how-to-manage-your-cattle app, that's for sure."

    Computer access for billions?

    With an estimated 5 billion people without access to computers, Endless say the potential for their computers is enormous and, while it may not be the cheapest on the market, Dalio says it is the best that money can buy.
    Consumers in the developing world, he says, are no different to consumers anywhere else in the world and want something functional but also slick.
    "People are like you and I, they want the best that they can afford," he said. "They want something unique and beautiful and exciting and different.
    "People here in the West will say they want a flat top on their desktops so they can stack their books on top of it, it's just a commodity, but there it's an object of art, of luxury, of pride.
    "They want the round top that we produce specifically so their kids can't stack their books on top of it."