Why the Endless computer isn’t going to change the world

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There’s a new supposed lifechanger on Kickstarter, with just several hours to go before funding.  It’s called the Endless Computer,  stylish system-on-a-chip PC that claims to offer the developing middle class a cheap way of providing better management, finance, and education.

But here’s the thing

The Endless isn’t anything new.  Small computers like this have been around forever – take the massively popular Raspberry Pi, a $35 dollar computer aimed at hobbyist programmers.  Granted, the Raspberry Pi is not a good choice for a commercial computer, as it requires quite a bit of tech knowledge to get up and running.  So what is the Endless offering that separates them from the rest?

It’s certainly not system specifications.  The Endless has about the power of a phone, with an Intel Celeron, 2GB of RAM, and WiFi only offered on the higher tiered model.  However, the Endless does offer its own preloaded software that does always “work with and without internet.” – An obvious hit at Chromebooks, which do indeed work just fine offline.  The software is intended to require zero training, although any of us with a tech-illiterate relative know that no piece of software, no matter how simple, requires zero training.  There is absolutely no way Endless can simplify complex business apps down so that someone with zero computer knowledge can use it.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually think that preloading useful software on a computer intended to be used with those programs is a fantastic idea.  I just very much dislike the fact that Endless claims that no training will be required.  It just isn’t true.  Every use is different, and many people will need a lot of help.  This little fact ties into an overall theme Endless creates.  “Don’t make something better – just excuse actual problems as non-issues”.

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And here’s the fun part.  Take a look at a screenshot of their official video of their software.  That’s right – LibreOffice Calc.  The same software that can be downloaded on any machine.  The LibreOffice suite is a great suite of software, but it is just as complex as any comparable Microsoft programs.

So what about the monitor?

The endless is a box similar to any other SoC – it’s a computer with no peripherals.  Endless says that the lack of a monitor will not be a problem, as most consumers can use their own TVs as monitors.

It sounds like a great compromise at first.  Most people have TVs, so hooking up a computer should be just fine, right? However, that logic falls apart when one considers that many TVs just don’t have the correct inputs, especially old CRT TVs that are still very popular.  And what about users who simply don’t have a TV, or who don’t want to switch between their TV and their computer?

Here’s the main problem.

Endless isn’t anything new.  It’s a product that tries to pass as groundbreaking, but instead of actually being a better product, it passes off it’s numerous shortcomings as things that don’t matter, or even improvements.  Take this section below, where the lack of a monitor, and optional WiFi is hidden among positive qualities to make it look like they are features of the Endless, and not oversights.

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What are some alternatives?

Any low-end laptop can beat the Endless in both specs, support, and (in some cases) price.  Take the Asus Chromebook 11 with its easy to use (and usable offline) Google Drive office suite.  It has half the storage of the lower-tier Endless at 16 gigs (which is plenty for most purposes), as well as the most important parts – support and built-in-peripherals.

200 dollars gets me a full system with a monitor, keyboard, and definitive support from Google and thousands of online documents.  While $200 is more than the lowest tier Endless, it comes out to much less when factoring the cost of a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Even if you dislike Chromebooks, there are many Window’s options, including the HP Stream 11.  It has the same drive space and RAM as the lower-tiered Endless, along with a built in screen, keyboard, and monitor.

The point is – the Endless isn’t solving any of the problems of conventional laptops.  In fact, they’re creating a few more problems along the way.  So why fix something that isn’t broken, and then make it slightly worse?

Why are we sold on this idea?

Like many Kickstarter campaigns, Endless wins us over with feelings of sympathy and pity.  How can we save these poor children’s education?  How can we help this Mexican grandmother?  The videos on Endless’ site look like they’re straight out of Clickhole.

Endless is not selling their intended audience on their product, they’re selling us on their product.  That’s somewhat understandable, as this is a Kickstarter, not an official website.  But there’s no information on opinions of the intended audience, or their needs.  In fact, Endless has proved it knows very little about their consumers.

In the end, it’s not about making the world a better place.  It’s about marketing a sub-par and poorly thought out product to the public by pulling on their heartstrings.

 

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