The need for a cheap, mobile wireless computer in the leapfrog world is pretty clear, and a number of manufacturers have come up with designs for that market. The Simputer is the canonical example, but other attempts include the EELS and the Mobilis, with the Ndiyo taking the wired/desktop route. None of these are perfect, however, with substantial limitations in how they connect or how portable they really are. But the big stumbling block is the cost; of the units actually available for purchase, all cost in the $200-$500 range.
At that price, it might be a good idea to target more affluent buyers, then rely on production efficiencies to drive down costs. That's the path that Nokia seems to be taking with its 770 Internet Tablet. If you follow the gadgetblogs at all, you've undoubtedly seen the specs: WiFi and Bluetooth, full Linux OS with web browser and email, touch/write-on 800x480 screen, and ~230g in weight/141mm x 79mm x 19mm (0.5 lbs./5.5" x 3" x 0.75") in size. Due out this Fall, the target price is $350 (about the same as the Simputer or the Mobilis). There are lots of potential drawbacks to the 770 -- no GSM/GPRS, so no phone use aside from VOIP and no web access away from WiFi hubs; limited battery life (~3 hours active use); limited onboard storage -- but it's certainly evokes what I've described in the past as a "step up from the mobile phone instead of a stripped-down laptop."
I cite the 770 not because I think it's particularly wonderful (frankly, it won't be out for months and it may well be a lemon), but because it's the clearest sign yet of the rethinking of the Internet platform as a variant of the mobile phone. Price aside, the biggest limitation for its use as a tool in the leapfrog nations is the lack of GSM/GPRS networking, a surprising omission given that the manufacturer is Nokia. But the larger message is clear: very soon, at most in the next year or two, the hardware design for the mobile leapfrogging tool will be available; the next step would be driving the price down. With a cheap wireless device like that available, the web can truly be world-wide.
Of the devices mentioned, I would have focused on the Mobilis, a truly mobile laptop/desktop from India. More is at: http://scotland.indymedia.org/newswire/display/1648/index.php
including how revolutionary -- world-changing -- this $220US device really is. It could mark a turning point in computing.
The Nokia 770 might prove to be a sleeper, however, and I really appreciate the Worldchanging.com article.
Actually, Clayton, I posted about the Mobilis awhile back --
(And I linked to that piece in this article.)
Thanks, Jamais. I am still working through all of your very useful links.
I like what you said about the $230 Mobilis laptop/desktop potentially being very useful in the West and I will link to your article, if you don't mind.
I think Wal-Mart is one of the best hopes for bringing down the cost of computers by creating a mass market for them in the US. Today the USA, tomorrow the world! No, I do not advocate the Wal-Martization of the world. I just think a US mass market would jumpstart the cheap-computer concept to the benefit of the rest of the world.
Please excuse the polemical tone of the article I originally referred to; but I remember the dream we used to have for easy, ubiquitous computing and I finally am seeing some light and hope, notably on Worldchanging.com.