Mobile broadband is on the rise, and so is the world’s Internet user base. But that’s not the complete picture. A digital divide still exists, particularly in developing economies, where access to online resources is limited to an elite few. Sometimes, this is economically driven, although sometimes political — such as in North Korea, where statistically 0% of the population have Internet access.

VIA Technologies plans to bridge the digital divide through a very cheap personal computer powered by Android. The aPC — or “Android PC” — costs just $49, but it provides a “complete PC experience at the fraction of the cost.”

The aPC runs on a custom Android system, which is built for keyboard and mouse input. A full set of I/O ports is also included, which enables a user to connect the aPC to a monitor or TV. Some specs:

  • VIA 800 MHz processor
  • 512MB DDR3 memory
  • 2GB NAND Flash
  • Built-in 2D/3D Graphics, with resolution up to 720p
  • HDMI, VGA, 4 USB 2.0 ports, audio out, mic in
  • microSD slot
  • 10/100 ethernet
  • 170 x 85 mm size, neo-ITX standard

The aPC is mostly a cloud-oriented computer. The creators say that the purpose of a PC has now evolved, in that computers now mainly connect to the Internet, and that “[i]t is the Internet that now defines computing.” As such, traditional computers are considered to be “expensive and overpowered,” and software is called “bloated.”

But aside from cloud-based apps, the aPC also comes shipped with apps like a web browser, Angry Birds, and the like. Of course, the computer also has access to Google Play, which gives the user hundreds of thousands of apps for download.

aPC has closed pre-orders, so that the creators can meet with demand in their first round of pre-orders. However, if this is a project that interests you, you can still sign up for the notification list.

Check out the video below with VIA Technologies VP Richard Brown presenting the aPC concept and demonstrating the actual device at TEDx in Shanghai. The intro is a bit lengthy, but you can jump to the 6:30 mark, where the fun starts.

Aside from smartphones and tablets, projects like the aPC are taking the post-PC concept to a whole new level. This does not just bring the computer (or mobile device) more accessible to the usual consumer set, but also to those unable to spend hundreds of dollars for a desktop or notebook computer.

Will the aPC help bridge the digital divide? It certainly is an interesting idea, and if more manufacturers — aside from VIA — can focus on this market, then Android might just become a dominant OS in the desktop market, as well.

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise platforms, and is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team that offers digital content and marketing services.
  • Roger

    The huge red flag is the “custom” Android bit. Regular Android already supports keyboards, mice and video out just fine. (Really – connect some via bluetooth and see.) Custom Android versions mean someone else acting as a gatekeeper for updates (before they lose interest) and the timeliness of the updates. And it gives them an opportunity to use binary blobs which makes the device unusable with open source Android versions. Note that VIA has an especially bad track record in the Linux world on that front.

    • g0vt_h00ker

      I don’t think people are buying this solely on the fact that it’s “Android version whatever” but for the fact that it’s cheap… don’t complicate simple things

      • Omar O’Hara

        They may not be buying it for the version, but each version makes better use of available hardware, making the system a bit faster. With only a single core 800 MHz processor, that’s a big deal.

    • Another big red flag is that it’s “mostly a cloud-oriented computer.” In other words, all data will be stored on a machine belonging to someone else and will be inherently insecure.

  • SpiceInc

    I’m confident it will, now only if the cost of connectivity (broadband) can drop to support the initiative.

    • spotshouse

      not even so much the cost, as the availability. There are huge areas that have no high speed internet available at all.

  • Software overpowered and bloated? I think not. If you work in the entertainment or research industry you need a powerful PC capable of developing with. Applications like 3D Studio Max, Adobe Photoshop, Maya, Cakewalk Sonar Pro Audio, Sony Vegas, AutoCAD, Solidworks, etc are just some of the many applications that mobile systems are not currently capable of running. Mobile graphics cards have come along way such as Nvidia’s Tegra3, but if you were to compare to Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 460 which is a minimum for some games these days you would laugh at the graphics capability on mobile devices.

    The bottom line is that mobile tech is great for basic business, but it still lacks significant power on the development side. Creating your assets, editing videos, developing physics simulation models for gaming or movies. You wouldn’t do any of these on a mobile device, only a laptop or desktop could handle them.

    • Stuart Butterworth

      That is all well and good, but this isn’t aimed at any sort of high end market – this is more for someone who wants, say, basic internet access via a television, or a cheap media streaming hub – this little piece of kit can do things that just a couple of years ago would have required some fairly expensive (and probably over-powered) kit.

    • Craig Brunetti

      I think the point is, there are more teenagers who need access to a document editor or spreadsheet editor than there are people who need a powerful workstation to manipulate multimedia.

      So the bottom line is, at $49, this device makes the difference for people who simply can’t afford a computer otherwise. That’s a lot of people, everywhere around the world.

      This device is not meant for your purposes, it’s meant for everybody else.

  • Brian Shea

    Isn’t this what Chrome OS is for?
    Anywhere the Chrome browser will run, then the whole Chrome OS will run.
    So, this aPC is simply system to run Chrome on? :)

  • lilmoe2002

    only benefit is the size. you can get an old, used, more powerful PC for around the same price… some are even with a screen.

    • But with a significantly worse power consumption. At this price, you amortize the investment pretty quickly from reduced power consumption.

  • Jesse

    Too weak to waste time with. No 1080p support either makes it not worth it too me.

    People are right, there are too many red flags here. I wish somebody would release a dual or quad core Android PC that didn’t suck.

    : /