Intel has opened four so-called " platform definition centres" that aim to help the chipmaker develop technology that targets the specific needs of emerging markets.
The offices in Brazil, China, Egypt and India will house broad teams with staff ranging from ethnographers and market researchers to chip designers. Qualifying staff must speak the local languages and have previously lived in the area.
"There are one billion users who can not use information technology today. Our goal is to capture as many as we can," Willy Agatstein, general manager of the platforms definition and development group, told vnunet.com .
The teams are set to go out and research specific local needs that computers currently do not meet and create new platforms using existing Intel products. This could lead to the creation of new motherboards and other components, Agatstein said. But Intel will continue to rely on computer manufacturers to deliver the final product.
Western computers for instance are not designed to work in dusty environments where there is an intermittent power supply and wired communications are non-existent. In addition to physical factors, there are also cultural challenges that have to be addressed, Agatstein explained.
Intel already has created computer models that cater to specific needs in emerging markets, but the platform definition centres are designed to take a more structured approach.
The chip manufacturer for instance helped develop a special home learning PC for consumers in China. The computer features a special tablet and software to help children learn the roughly 2,000 Chinese characters. It also has a physical lock and key that puts the device in an educational mode by blocking access to some applications.
"You could easily do this in software, but there is a key and lock," Agatstein said. But pointing out how cultural differences dictated how a computer is designed, he added that a physical mechanism "is something that the market wanted to have."
A computer developed for use in internet cafes in another example of a PC that caters toward specific needs for emerging markets. The appliance uses a newly designed motherboard with added bits of hardware that allows the cafe operator to automatically install a fresh software image for every new customer.
Organisations that talk about bringing computers to the third world often focus on bringing down the price through the use of low cost hardware and open source software. By looking at the price, they are taking the wrong approach, argued Agatstein.
"Price always matters, but the prime thing that people are looking for is for information technology to solve a problem that they actually have."
He cited one conversation he had with a mayor of a small village in India, whose goal it was to double his citizens' incomes. The conversation revolved around the need to buy and sell equipment and produce for their farms, together with improving communications with the government.
"Price was never mentioned once," Agatstein said.
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