The BBC recently carried news of the Keepod project, a drive to put Keepod OS, a desktop version of Android OS, on a $7 flash drive “to offer low-cost computing to the two-thirds of the globe’s population that currently has little or no access”.
The concept is intriguing, but I have my concerns, tabled below:
1. The target population cannot afford PCs
A USB flash drive needs a PC. No matter the specs of the PC, the people who are targeted with this project cannot afford a PC. Do the math. The project seeks to deploy revived PCs to take care of this problem. Not a bad idea, but those will still cost something.
2. The target population does not have electricity
Rural areas where the Keepod is going to be deployed often do not have electricity. A PC requires a power source. Add a generator or inverter to the setup.
3. The problem of internet access
A PC requires internet access. By extension, it requires an accessory to deliver that internet access – a USB flash drive, a router, or a MiFi. Another layer of cost.
4. The project goes against the direction of technological progress
The direction of ICT progress is mobile. Mobile solves almost all of the problems highlighted above – whether fully or in part. Low-cost internet-connected mobiles are cheaper than the most basic PCs. Also, once charged, a mobile goes for several hours without requiring to be plugged into a power source. Internet-enabled mobile devices have internet connectivity built in so they can connect to available mobile networks. No extra accessories required.
Yes; productivity on a mobile isn’t as tight as what obtains on PC, but the truth is that the most basic needs that the Keepod project seeks to solve are easily solved on mobile too. Those kids don’t need advanced computing. Just basic access to information and communications online.
I love that the people behind Keepod are doing something to address a real problem. Not a lot of people are doing anything to make a difference in today’s world. I just don’t think that Keepod will achieve much. I wish the project well too. I’m just not convinced. This initiative will cost each user way more than $7.
Keepod is not likely to deliver computer access to billions. At best, some millions. For billions, low-cost internet-connected mobile devices from Microsoft/Nokia, TECNO, ZTE and cheap branded/unbranded mobile products from Asia are much more likely to achieve that goal.