An idea for Apple: An ultra low-cost ARM-based PC for the masses

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday February 9 @ 6:00 pm

Maybe it was due to the cold I’m currently struggling with, or a by-product of the medicine I’m taking for it, or it could just be my brain’s attempt to keep me sane while I power through exhaustion until my holiday in May – but last night I had the most peculiar, vivid and financially plausible technology dream ever.

Let me explain…..

I dreamt, in surprising detail, that Apple had launched an ultra low-cost desktop PC/media player called the iSocket (yes, the name is terrible, but stick with it), which had a striking resemblance to the company’s AirPort Expresspocket Wifi router.

However, instead of containing a Wifi router, the casing in fact contains a very small, basic but effective ARM-based PC, not unlike the one about to go on sale from the Raspberry Pi project. Only Apple’s one ran a complete version of iOS along with the Apple TV big screen media player interface, giving you all the capabilities of an Apple TV, but also the full iOS application set and the ability to buy and install additional apps like you would on an iPhone or iPod Touch does.

The iSocket featured a HDMI connector (with audio), 3.5mm audio out, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot and a mains plug. It also had built-in Wifi and on-board Bluetooth, should you prefer to connect a keyboard and mouse to it wirelessly. As previously mentioned the chassis was a slightly oversized version of the Airport Express, with the intention that you plug the device straight into the wall socket, keeping it neat and tidy, as well as keeping it compact and reducing the production cost by keeping everything on one very simple motherboard.

Ultimately, what we are talking about here is an Apple TV with some additional connectors, a different casing, and a full iPod Touch-style iOS build embedded, rather than the cut down media player version of iOS currently used in the Apple TV.

The most curious thing about the iSocket was the price. In the dream, Apple planned to sell this device for $1, working on the basis that the hiding it would take on the initial hardware sale would be more than clawed back through the combination of higher app and content sales. Or even content subscriptions…..

When I woke up this morning, I was so convinced of the detail and plausibility of the dream, I had to go and double-check that it wasn’t a real product that had been announced overnight by Apple and that I’d heard about on the radio or TV while sleeping.

Suffice to say the iSocket had not been launched by Apple, and neither had it launched any other $1 ultra-basic PC with a less stupid name than the one my lucid sleep-deprived brain conjured up.

But, it is a plausible device, and the $1 price tag isn’t completely mad either. With Apple’s gargantuan cash reserves, the company could afford to take a massive up-front hit to seed these devices globally, in order to achieve longer-term recurring revenues. However, whether it would fit Apple’s product strategy or be deemed too geeky for a company that is now firmly in the mainstream is unclear.

Apple’s interest in desktop computing has waned in recent years, as demonstrated by the slowing in development of its iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini products. You can’t blame the company – desktop PC sales are in decline globally. The big money and big interest right now is in portable devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. However, desktop computing is still a cost-effective starting point for the next generation of software developers to start (it’s where I started, writing software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga and early Windows PCs). Also, desktop PC technology does make for a good media player platform – and internet-connected media players are growing in popularity thanks to ubiquitous broadband availability and the growth in online content delivery services such as iTunes, LoveFilm and Netflix.

Also, a low-cost, small and simple to deploy desktop computer wouldn’t hurt Apple’s market share in emerging economies where a £1,500 MacBook Pro or £600 Mac Mini just won’t fly in volume just yet, but a cheap and cheerful ARM-based iOS desktop mated to a cheap monitor or flat panel TV will, seeding interest and desire for bigger, more expensive Apple products in the future. Finally, a very cheap, discreet PC connected to a TV would be appealing to those put off by the complexity and cumbersome look and feel of Windows and MacOS laptops.

The guys working on the Raspberry Pi project have already demonstrated that you can build and sell – profitably – a decent spec ARM-based micro computer for about $25 (£17). On that basis, the likes of Apple could easily sell a similar device, running iOS or an embedded ARM-port of full MacOS X, as a loss-leader for $1. Such a device, due to its minimal on-board storage, would be heavily reliant on either external storage drives or Apple’s iCloud service for storage and file-sharing (another upsell opportunity), while the ability to access and purchase (or rent) content and apps from the iTunes Music and App Stores would generate suitable additional revenue to more than offset the initial loss on the hardware.

Contrary to the company’s current strategy, iOS apps are extremely well-suited to a TV/Living Room environment and are a more friendly way of delivering Internet-based services into a non-computing environment than a web browser on a big-screen TV.

Apple then gets to make massive inroads into the consumer PC space and complete the integration of Apple mobile devices within the home, but moreover, gets to move even more into the home media player space than it has achieved so far with the Apple TV devices.

Yes, there is all likelihood that Apple is going to launch a TV with all of the above integrated into it. But as we have seen with Freeview boxes, until people are ready to replace their TV, bring them along for the ride with an external box that does everything the integrated unit can do, rather than just the limited Apple TV feature set we have today.

In the meantime, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the first Raspberry Pi devices are set to go on sale very soon – I think they will be extremely interesting and disruptive devices. If I’m quick enough, I plan on purchasing a couple.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of the Apple iSocket, or at the very least, a price cut for the Mac Mini.

BBC Interview: Will Japan’s problems damage Apple’s supply chain?

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday April 21 @ 11:16 am
Chris Green - BBC News Interview - April 20 2011

Yesterday morning I was on BBC News previewing Apple’s results and talking about how the disruption in the global component supply chain is likely to impact Apple’s plans for new devices (iPhone 5) and its ability to meet demand for current products (iPad 2 etc).

The interview is now up on the BBC News web site and can be viewed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13143021

In case you are not aware, Apple last night reported its best Q2 ever, generating $5.99 billion in profit. However, combined iPad and iPad 2 sales undershot expectations at 4.7 million units, against analyst expectations of 6-6.2 million. iPod sales continue to decline, down 17 per cent as falling sales of the basic iPod Classic and iPod Shuffle devices diluted growth in sales of the newer and feature-rich touchscreen  iPod Nano and iPod Touch units.

Previewing Apple’s results at the BBC

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday April 20 @ 3:58 am

It is extremely early in the morning, and I am off to BBC TV Centre to preview Apple’s Q2 results which are due out at 10pm BST tonight (5pm Eastern).

I’ll be on BBC News Channel at 5.30am BST this morning on World Business Report talking about what we can expect from Apple’s numbers.

Overseas viewers can watch the show live on BBC World at 6.30am CEST and 12.30am Eastern in the US.

Lots of interesting things to discuss including the implications of the Japan earthquake and tsunami on Apple’s component supply, whether iPod sales will decline further and the initial success of the iPad 2.

Off to the BBC…

Posted by Chris Green on Friday April 15 @ 6:01 am

I will be on BBC Radio 5 Live today at around 7.45am BST talking about Google’s financial results and the challenges facing co-founder Larry Page as he takes the helm as chief executive.

Radio and TV appearances: Windows Phone 7 launch

Posted by Chris Green on Sunday October 10 @ 12:34 pm
Windows Phone 7 press conference invite

Windows Phone 7 press conference invite

Tomorrow (Monday) marks the official launch of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform.

Windows Phone 7 is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system for smartphones and PDAs. The new version marks a major departure from the traditional Windows Phone/Windows Mobile user interface, with a move to a larger finger-friendly interface that has been influenced significantly by Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player platform.

Microsoft needed to undertake a major overhaul of Windows Phone in the face of overwhelming device and software competition from Apple, RIM and Google. Only Nokia appears to be struggling worse than Microsoft to gain a footing in the smartphone market.

I’m doing a number of media appearances tomorrow to talk about the new phone platform and where it fits into a crowded and competitive smartphone market. You can see and hear me on the following stations and shows:

Monday October 11th 2010 – all times are BST
5.30am – Wake Up To Money (BBC Radio 5 Live)
6.15am – Today (BBC Radio 4)
6.50am – BBC Breakfast (BBC 1 TV)
7.30am – World Business Report (BBC World TV) – Not officially available in the UK, international viewers only

If you can, do take a look.

Apple financials on CNBC

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday January 22 @ 1:31 pm
Chris on CNBC Squawk Box talking about Apple's quaterly financials

Chris on CNBC Squawk Box talking about Apple's quaterly financials

I popped up on CNBC this morning on behalf of DMG Europe to talk about Apple’s quarterly financials and the business implications of a permanent departure by Steve Jobs.

You can view the video here.

Google Chrome media spots

Posted by Chris Green on Tuesday September 2 @ 5:36 pm

I’m doing a few media spots to talk about Google Chrome, the new web browser from Google.

You can catch me tonight (2 September) on CNN at 7.40pm UK time (2.40pm Eastern, 11.40am Pacific) where I’ll be discussing the new browser and the competitive implications for Microsoft, which has also recently released a public beta of IE8.

Tomorrow (3 September) I’ll be on the breakfast show on BBC Radio 5 Live at about 8.45am.

As always, these timings are subject to change.

Very PC – Very Embarrassing

Posted by Chris Green on Monday August 4 @ 9:11 pm

I’ve just watched fledgling UK-based PC maker Very PC put in a cringe-worthy performance on Dragons’ Den.

This company is valuing itself at 50 times earnings and has a range of computers that contain no proprietary technology and offer energy-saving features that can be achieved by anyone looking to build a PC themselves.

Very PC’s machines do offer energy savings over some of the equivalent PCs on the market, and the company has won awards for its efforts. But at this point the products offer nothing unique, and nothing that can’t be replicated easily and cheaply.

I desperately want to see a British PC maker do well, and would love to see Very PC grow and thrive even more than it has. However, performances like the one on the show just make our once proud computer manufacturing (or more recently assembly) sector look like a joke. Peter Jones, a guy who does know his tech, was annoyed – and so am I.

Five million quid – for what! Please, tell me, where is the value? It isn’t in the size of the customer base (at just £300,000 turnover, the company was clearly not selling many machines at the time the show was recorded), it certainly isn’t in the brand (Time and Tiny still have more street cred than this start-up right now), and there is nothing special about the products. They don’t look good, and they are all made out of off-the-shelf bits.

If you want a eco-friendly PC, you can actually go down to a computer fair and buy the bits to make one. If you live in London, I encourage you to visit the British Computer Fair every Saturday in Cleveland Street at UCL. If you have a car, get along to the big fairs at Bracknell Sports Centre and Tolworth Rec. Both are on once or twice a month on a Sunday.

Really – building your own PC is a doddle, it’s like playing with Lego. You will save a fortune and almost certainly achieve the same, if not better, ‘green’ results.

Very PC – before undertaking such a publicity stunt you need to acknowledge a realistic view of the market and a realistic valuation for your company, a business that builds computers that are no more energy-efficient or recyclable than the ones I or anyone else can build at home. On the basis of the sales and profit figures disclosed on the show, I’d say the business was worth, at most, about £600,000 – that’s why the panel of dragons were so unimpressed.

Please spend some time and money developing some unique energy-saving BIOS or motherboard technology you can patent and that will allow you to move away from just relying on generic PC parts alone. Then you can really make a name for yourselves globally as well as make a positive and lasting difference to the PC industry.

Go on – it’ll be good for the environment, good for the company and good for Britain.

The CNBC iPhone 3G interview

Posted by Chris Green on Friday July 11 @ 4:10 pm

Chris on CNBC talking about the iPhone 3G

In case you missed it, the nice people at CNBC have put a streaming copy of this morning’s iPhone 3G discussion online.

Celebrate the 80s

Posted by Chris Green on Friday June 20 @ 10:59 pm

Celebrate the 80s front cover

It’s the perfect gift for birthdays, christenings, grduation, or just a good read if you are stoned or just miss the greatest decade since we all realised the world isn’t flat.

Written by members of the greatest generation (those of us who grew up in the 80s), and edited by my friend and colleague Simon Brew, this book is the definitive guide to all things 80s – TV shows, music, films and proper computer games (the ones that came on tapes).

You can buy Celebrate the 80s now from Amazon.co.uk.

And yes, I did write some of it.

Seriously, its a brilliant book and it will bring back some fantastic memories, and a few that will make you cringe as well. Find out what all your 80s big and small screen favourites are doing now (not all of them are flipping burgers for a living) and read some exclusive interviews with the people who pioneered 80s entertainment.

WARNING: This book does contain a picture of me, with a mullet!

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