Qualcomm KayakAt India Telecom 2008, Qualcomm showcased Kayak, a low cost, low power computing device; an alternative to the PC for rural areas. Some of the features of the device:

Power consumption: we’ve heard in the past about how HCL developed PCs that work on car batteries for rural areas because availability of power is scarce, and how some villagers travel for miles to recharge their phones. Kayak doesn’t require a UPS or battery backup – it uses less than 5 Watts of power to run. The prototype Qualcomm showcased doesn’t come with a battery built in, but the company said that the commercial unit can run for 3-5 hours without electricity, depending on the battery size.

Ruggedness: Kayak is powered by a rugged processor, the kind used in mobile handsets which survive despite rough use. There are no moving parts and uses a flash drive for storage. One can also use network storage for files.


Qualcomm Webtop
Complexity: The system loads within 30 seconds, like in case of mobile handsets. The device doesn’t have a complex operating system, and Internet access is powered by Opera Software. Qualcomm believes that people in rural areas require basic mostly services like email, chat, music, messaging, basic gaming etc. Only a few savvy users will want to use other applications.

Connectivity: Kayak is a 3G device, and can work on EVDO or HSDPA; I saw the demo on MTNLs 3G, which had a speed of 1.5 Mbps (not 2.5Mbps as MTNL had earlier claimed). Sandeep Sibal of Qualcomm had mentioned in his presentation that they’re talking to various mobile operators in India about its deployment. 

Qualcomm Webtop Qualcomm Webtop

Price and Manufacturing: Qualcomm is not going to manufacture the device – they’re expecting OEMs to manufacture it, and Qualcomm will provide the technology. The company expects a version of this computer, with the peripherals, to be available for less that Rs. 10,000. What’s interesting is that one can also connect the device to a TV set (take a look at the connectors in the image above)

Our take: Rs. 10,000 is a rather high price for a device that provides very basic services, but the fact that it connects to the mobile network works to its advantage – a thin client needs wireline connectivity; connectivity charges will be separate, so maybe it’s time someone figured out a better interface for the mobile device.  

With applications moving to the cloud (i.e. remotely hosted), a most basic services don’t require a heavy duty operating system and storage. The low power consumption, and the fact that one can connect it to a TV set instead of buying a separate monitor works to Kayak’s advantage. I would have liked to see a local language interface, which Opera is geared up for, since they have mobile and PC browsers which support Indic languages.