In late 2010, American retailers finally brought $100 Netbooks to the mainstream marketplace. Kmart started selling the Android 1.6-based Augen Genbook 74 and the CVS drugstore chain started selling the Windows CE-based Sylvania 7-inch Netbook. At $99, these dimunitive computers could be a godsend to school kids, starving students, grandparents, poor people, and others who just want a cheap computer for checking their e-mail. However, both of these mini Netbooks and many similar machines are hindered by a lack good applications. While these machines can check e-mail and do light web surfing, they have much more potential.
The Augen GenBook 74 can run a plethora of Android applications. However, Android 1.6 is a smart phone operating system. While it can run on the Augen GenBook 74, many Android devices expect users to interact through a resistive touch screen, work within the confines of a tall and narrow screen, and make use of smartphone features like gyroscopes, GPS, and a built in camera. Unfortunately, the Augen GenBook 74 mini netbook has none of those features. Instead, it has a traditional (but small) laptop screen, a real keyboard, and a laptop-style touchpad. Some users may even opt to add a USB mouse to make their Augen GenBook 74 easier to work with. Unfortunately, many Android applications re-orient the screen on the Augen GenBook 74 and act somewhat unpredictably.
Similarly, the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook sold at CVS runs using the embedded Windows CE 6.0 operating system. Like the Augen GenBook 74, the Sylvania CVS netbook can do lots of basic things. However, Windows CE is also an operating system associated with PDAs, phones, cameras, consumer products, medical equipment, and industrial devices. For some reason, many Windows CE applications simply will not work on the Sylvania 7-inch netbook. While some seem promising, when you doubleclick to install them, the machine will claim that they are not valid Windows CE applications. Clearly, appropriate applications need to be collected in an app store, tested on the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook, and released to the user community.
The problems hampering the Augen GenBook 74 and Sylvania 7-inch CVS netbook are teething pains associated with adopting operating systems to new computer form factors and price points. A capable developer could easily develop applications for either device. The world is awash in system development kits for Android and Windows Embedded CE 6.0. For $99, it can’t cost too much to get a system for development purposes. These new systems are undeveloped territory and a great place for a developer to make a reputation and provide useful applications where they are sorely needed.
While both mini netbooks can handle basic tasks, the thousands of people who buy these systems are waiting for developers to step up and offer games, educational software, full-featured office suites, recipe trackers, star charts, and a whole universe of useful software applications. If you are a programmer who has been dutifully developing software to control a DVR, these little machines might be a great chance to cut loose and create some casual games. If you are a small software company and have already created software for PDAs, these devices offer an excellent opportunity to tweak your code, compile it for these machines, and present it to a whole new market. Finally, if you are an open source developer, the frugal people who buy these machines will appreciate the software you create.
When buyers consider mini netbooks like the Augen GenBook 74 and Sylvania CVS 7-inch netbook, they can see the cup as half empty or half full. Ultimately, developers will have to decide whether to fill these cups up with great software.