Call it “One Desktop per Child.” The Endless Mini is a $79 desktop PC designed to bring the knowledge of the Internet to the billions of people who might not be able to access it.
The Endless Mini is a small sphere of a machine, slightly larger than a grapefruit, with three USB ports (two USB 2.0, one USB 3.0) and an HDMI output. Inside of it is an AMLogic Cortex-A ARM chip, 1 GB of RAM, Linux, and a suite of Endless-designed apps, all with the goal of minimizing the resources needed to allow Endless customers access to the Internet—even if there is no Internet access.
The Mini ships in two versions: one with 24 GB of storage space, and a second version with 32 GB. (The price of the 32-GB model, which also has 2 GB of RAM, has not been disclosed.) Most of that capacity is full of cached information: stored Wikipedia files, open-source music, even games. The idea is that users will have access to Internet content even if an Internet connection is unavailable.
Why this matters: The Mini sounds quite a bit like Nicholas Negroponte’s vision of One Laptop per Child: a nonprofit he founded a decade ago with the goal of shipping a $100 PC to the developing world. A decade later, Negroponte now acts as an adviser to Endless, a for-profit startup with the goal of bringing computing to the billions of people in developing countries who are looking for a low-cost on-ramp to the Internet. According to Endless, though, today’s customer is less concerned about the cost of the hardware than the availability and price of Internet access.
A luxury PC for emerging markets
Still, Matt Dalio, the chief executive of Endless, somewhat surprisingly describes the $79 Mini as a “luxury PC,” supplementing computers that its customers already use at home or at work. “The hardware is not the reason people are buying it,” Dalio said in an interview before CES.
“This is the computer that people are buying instead of the nicest Mac in the world… because that thing is useless without the Internet,” Dalio said. “So it’s the [applications], the feature set. With that said, the hardware is essentially a delivery mechanism, and it does it as fast as I need it to.”
Endless preloaded a number of apps on the machine: an “encyclopedia” made up of frequently accessed Wikipedia articles, online educational videos from Khan Academy, a music player with preloaded open-source music, a health app that can provide information for first aid, and even preloaded games like FreeCiv, an open-source version of Civilization. An open-source Chromium Web browser is also available. Once the Mini does connect to the Internet, users have the option of refreshing the apps to download the most current information.
In our brief time with the Mini, we found Dalio’s characterization to be pretty accurate: The Mini feels really slow by Western standards, with a delay of a second or two to open an app. But chances are, you and I are not the target market. Dalio says Endless is working with governments in Latin America, for example, to install Endless computers as educational PCs.