Plug and Play

More Small PC Developments

Compute_plug_lCCS Insight has written several times about tiny computers, their shrinking prices and the growing interest in them. CHIP, the $9 computer available via Kickstarter, has almost reached crowd-sourced funding of $2 million — well over its original $50,000 goal (see Daily Insight: Enabling a Hacking Culture). We’ve also seen a growing number of stick PCs from companies such as Amazon, Google, Intel and Roku, able to turn dumb displays into smart devices (see Daily Insight: System on a Stick).

Low-cost, low-power components combined with optimised operating systems are enabling a product category of computer appliances that can be dotted across households for specific purposes.

At Computex 2015 in Taiwan, manufacturer Quanta introduced the Compute Plug: a Windows 10 computer built into a power adapter. It’s a Windows PC about the size of a phone charger that can be hooked into an HDMI-capable display.

Many details of Quanta’s Compute Plug (including pricing) are lacking, but Microsoft is showing off such products together with hardware partners to demonstrate the flexibility of Windows 10. Like Android and Linux, Microsoft’s new iteration of Windows is intended for devices well beyond legacy computers. Windows 10 will be at home in the post-PC era.

Foxconn introduced the Windows 10 Kangaroo, a portable computer about the size of a Wi-Fi router. The device has a built-in battery and fingerprint reader compatible with Microsoft’s Windows Hello biometric authentication and, like the plug PC, Kangaroo is small enough to be hidden away.

Foxconn, Microsoft and Quanta aren’t boasting about computing power with these devices — that’s not the point. It’s a matter of utility, enabling users to have specialised PCs scattered throughout the house. Windows 10 supports a wider set of heterogeneous devices, providing Microsoft with the flexibility to compete against more new shapes and sizes.

Windows 10 will begin shipping on 29 July, and Microsoft says that there will be more than 300 new products running the OS on that date. Many of these will be a new generation of two-in-one PCs, blurring the lines between laptops and tablets. Microsoft’s “continuum” thinking with Windows 10 promises a new level of flexibility, recognising devices like smartphones as real computers, too.

Defining the classes of products will be an ongoing challenge for market researchers. However, we hope to see more fresh designs like Quanta’s Compute Plug emerge this year. The market for computers has gone from luggables to pluggables in short order.

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