In the last week’s technology news, I’ve been struck by the recent confluence of several business and technology factors that either promise or threaten — I can’t yet really decide which — to remake the world of personal computing as it’s currently understood by those who come at it from the Windows direction. Certainly, it’s already clear that for the bulk of the world’s low-end consumption of processing power, the advent of low-cost high-function smartphones and tablets primarily based on Android has broadened the total user population enormously. Microsoft is by no means oblivious to this trend, and has been casting about (along with technology partners such as Intel) to find a counter to the otherwise inevitable loss of its market position to Google and the hordes of budget device designers and fabricators driving the Android phenomenon relentlessly forward.
The HDMI stick is the same size as a typical USB flash drive; plug it into a suitably-equipped TV, add keyboard and mouse, and you’ve got a PC at your disposal.
Here are some examples of what I’ve been seeing that lead me to believe that the Windows team may be closing in on some interesting and possibly effective low-budget counter-thrusts:
In this story at Neowin, a $200 Windows 8.1 PC that’s small enough to fit into a pocket is depicted and discussed: “ZOTAC unveils the ZBOX PI320, a $200 Windows 8.1 PC the size of a chunky smartphone” (10/21/2014; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735F CPU, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash SSD, 3xUSB3 ports, full-size HDMI, microSD, Ethernet GbE, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.o).
Sean Portnoy at ZDnet profiles an E Fun Nextbook in a story entitled “$179 10-inch Windows 8.1 tablet coming to Walmart,” (10/21/2014; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735G CPU, 1 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash SSD, 1xmicroUSB2, mini-HDMI, microSD, 10.1″ 1280×800 IPS touch screen, attachable POGO keyboard base, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.o, one year free Office 365 subscription with 1 TB OneDrive cloud storage and 60 free Skype world minutes monthly).
Shreyas Gandhe writes about a $125 UFD form-factor PC in another Neowin story entitled “Intel Bay Trail-based HDMI stick capable of running Windows 8.1 goes on sale” which recounts an Alibaba affiliate selling a complete HDMI dongle-based PC for $110 (the extra $15 covers shipping world-wide; 10/19/2014; no OS included or pre-installed; Quad-core Intel Bay Trail Z3735 F or G, 2 GB RAM, 16 or 32 GB Flash SSD, 2xmicroUSB2, micro HDMI, microSD, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0). Here’s the link to the English-language product page at Aliexpress for “Merry He’s store” in mainland China.
In all three cases, users gain access to usable computing for $200 or less, in form factors that range from a mid-sized tablet with clamshell keyboard (E Fun Nextbook), to a sub-NUC supercompact PC (ZBOX PI320), to an HDMI plug-in PC ready to add to just about any modern TV set to turn it into a fairly full-featured PC that can run either Windows (all models) or Linux (HDMI stick). These devices put reasonable computing power into just about anybody’s hands in an affordable and compact vehicle, where a TV set can act as a first (or second) monitor. A modest outlay for peripherals (keyboard and mouse) turns these offerings into usable desktops, even.
What we see here, I think, is a real riposte at the emerging dominance of Android based smartphones and tablets, at the same price points as those “other” devices already deliver. It remains to be seen whether the low-end buyers at which these offering are aimed will “get” that PC capability buys them more than what Android devices deliver, or it they will even care. I do think this latest wave of low-cost Bay Trail devices has a chance to retilt current buying trends in the global marketplace, but only time will tell if that chance will turn the tide or not.