I know, it’s been done before, but let’s try again, with a different name. I was reading around Slashdot and was interested in one of their articles about the Qi Ben NanoNote, an ultra-small, clamshell-style computer with specs that match moderately-powered smartphones… of about three years ago. But there’s a catch! Two actually. The Ben NanoNote runs all Free and Open Source Software as well as using all copyleft hardware. What’s copyleft hardware you ask? Why it’s hardware to which everybody has access to final production diagrams and schematics, allowing anyone with resources to implement the hardware design exactly. Finally, the device only costs $99, and that’s an end user purchase, not an OEM bulk rate, which could arguably be much lower.
Where am I going with this? Lets’ revive the personal communicator device, tried time and time again but always failing (I know, I’m an idiot)! Sony did it; there was also that Sidekick device, and many others. So what would be different? Well, none of it ever reached mass-market distribution in Kenya, none of it was completely Open Source and most certainly none of it was only $99.
Statistics already show there is a vibrant mobile-Internet user group in Africa, and more and more people are joining sites like Facebook and getting their daily news off the web, but they are doing so from tiny screens and T9-ing their input. Throw in SMS support and there is potential for a new crop of data-bundle-oriented mobile service customers who don’t care about making phone calls. If you are worried about the perception of lugging around multiple devices, many people already carry multiple phones depending on the number of carriers they use. Make this new device multi-SIM and it’s even more attractive!
There are disadvantages to the device as it stands now. There is no camera. There is no built in 3G modem. There is no custom software that would make the device seem tailored to the mobile social experience. It’s currently un-marketable as far as I am concerned.
Instead, view the Ben NanoNote as a proof of concept that inexpensive mobile devices can be manufactured and run quality software. Mobile consumers in Kenya are already accustomed to a web without Flash and H.264 support, so why not create this half step device that opens up more of the web for a fraction of the cost of a 44,000/- black-market iPhone or 80,000/- Blackberry.
Most importantly, being completely open and, “easy,” to hack (it was designed for it), it could help entice a whole new generation of jua kali hackers in Kenya, who get to see instant results of their efforts running on hardware and over the network. This is where Nokia and Samsung and other hardware manufacturers are getting it all wrong. It is far too difficult to modify their devices, to fix problems, to customize the experience, all of which carry a lot of weight in the markets here. There’s space for an upset and a chance to change how people perceive their mobile devices. If FOSS can make successful inroads, why not FOSH?
Oh, and make it solar powered just for giggles.
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