By Harry McCracken | Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7:26 am
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Coby says the Indymedia story was a hoax and they’re working on no such laptops.]
Coby, a company that specializes in dirt-cheap consumer electronics, says it’s getting into the dirt-cheap laptop business. A site called Arkansas Indymedia is reporting that Coby plans to ship a $99.95 notebook by March 2009.
Well, a sort of a notebook. According to Indymedia, Coby is saying it’s created a whole new class of computer, the “midget PC.” Well, maybe–the machines will apparently feature 7″ or 9″ screens, use non-x86 CPUs fron China-based Longsoon, and run Linux. Sounds like netbooks to me–very basic netbooks, perhaps, but not not a whole new approach to computing.
We don’t know what other specs the midget PCs will, um, “boast,” but you’ve gotta think they’ll have a smattering of flash storage, Wi-Fi (one hopes), maybe one USB port, basic sound pumped through a modest speaker system, and possibly no video output. Coby plans to sell it through grocery stores and other low-margin retail outfits.
Digging around on the Web, I see that the Coby’s pricetag may not be unprecedented–China’s Hivision already a $98 laptop, also based on a Longsoon chip. But it’s still an eyebrow-raiser, especially given that OLPC’s XO, the famous “$100 laptop,” still goes for $199. And the non-profit OLPC doesn’t need to eke out a profit, which Coby will presumably want to do.
Indymedia says that Coby’s brand-name will be PoqetMate. I like the reference, intentional or unintentional, to the old Poqet PC from the late 1980s–but I don’t know if Fujitsu, who ended up with the Poqet trademark, knows or approves of Coby’s plans.
The PoqetMate also reminds me of even earlier PCs like the Atari 400 (the first computer I bought with my own money, back in 1982). It’s stripped down; it’s presumably all solid-state; it’s likely at least somewhat hobbled by the fact that its CPU isn’t an x86 model, making it incompatible with most of the Linux software out there. Indymedia quotes Coby’s marketing guy as denying that it’ll be a toy. But it will surely be something less than a full-strength, general-purpose PC. It’ll be fascinating to see whether it turns out to be be a stunt or a type of computer that large numbers of real people use to do real work.