As part one of my prior postings (Google's Future? GBrowser, GooglePC, Google NetPC and Google ISP), I hypothesized that Google could extend its reach in China and India by offer a low cost PC. Here's why this is important:
The current combined population of China and India is 2.9 billion, compared to 293 million in the US. Thus, China and India represent 10X the population of the US and both have a rising middle class.
I also outlined a belief that a low-cost PC could be built for $150 to $300 including monitor (see posting I referenced above) and that costs could eventually be driven down to $50. Well, now there are two recent articles worth mentioning showing that this is indeed possible:
- Linare is a U.S. company selling a low cost PC for $200 (without monitor but these can be had relatively cheaply). According to this great article on Linare from CNET (Cheap Linux PCs targeted at home users), Linare plans an international expansion to India and also wisely plans to house their customer service needs there. Importantly, CNET points out that people in India are not dependent on Microsoft applications, so they are more than happy to use free Linux applications instead.
- The MIT Media Lab has started a project aimed at developing a $100 laptop as an educational tool for developing countries. Read the specs and you'll see these machines will be truly modern, offering things like USB ports and WiFi.
So the cheap PC is indeed a reality. What's Google's role in this? Please read this article if you want my detailed rationale, but the short story is that Google could extend their reach through an extremely inexpensive NetPC. Google is already experimenting with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service where they will store some data for users in a central location.
If MIT can build a laptop for $100, then perhaps a minimal NetPC with monitor could be built for $50 or less if mass-produced. At that price, a "PC" is not too far out of the reach of most people in China and India, although it would be a stretch given the relatively low pay there currently.
At the very least, Google would have a vested interest in quickly extending their reach in booming China and India. Of course, there are other companies with the same interest, but few with the vision and grand plans that Google has. Google may end up achieving this via partnerships, allowing it to focus on what it does best. But if Google is going to offer free WiFi in San Fransisco, what's to stop them from selling NetPC and offering free WiFi in Delhi, India?
(Please note: In China, the web is accessed most often via cell phones or at internet cafes. Most Chinese consumers cannot afford a Microsoft-based PC so getting PC in the homes of China will require steep price cuts. The same is likely true for much of developing India.)