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Qualcomm designs low-cost PC alternative

Company joining the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and One Laptop Per Child in effort to bring low-cost computers to the developing world.

Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm has developed a new, low-cost computing platform that it hopes will provide an alternative to Windows-based PCs in parts of the world where traditional broadband connections aren't available.

The new platform called Kayak will be based on Qualcomm's dual-core MSM7 series chipsets. Eventually, the design could also include Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipsets, which offer both GSM-based and CDMA-based 3G technologies.

Qualcomm hopes the Kayak platform can fill a much needed niche between Windows PCs and smart phones when it comes to providing Internet-enabled devices in the developing world. PCs or laptops are often too expensive for people in these regions of the world. And because traditional broadband connections aren't available, it's difficult to connect PCs to the Internet.

That said, 3G networks are deployed throughout much of the world. As a result, it's becoming more common for people in developing markets to connect to the Internet via a 3G-enabled smartphone rather than a PC. But smartphones have small screens and keypads and don't provide all the necessary computing power for fully engaging the Internet.

This is where Qualcomm believes its Kayak devices come in. Devices that use the Kayak design could plug into TVs, computer monitors, or have their own built-in displays. They also support a keyboard and mouse and will be able to play digital music files as well as allow users to play 3-D games. And Qualcomm expects these devices to sell for less than $400 when bundled with a 3G wireless service from a carrier, which could hit an important sweet spot in developing markets.

"The broad footprint of 3G networks means that wireless is the answer to Internet access for worldwide markets--especially in emerging regions," Luis Pineda, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, said in a statement. "The Kayak PC alternative is a great example of how Qualcomm is leveraging cloud computing over wireless broadband networks to help bring new areas of the world into the global online community for the first time."

Manufacturers can design their own "Kayak" device
Qualcomm will not be manufacturing Kayak computing devices itself. Instead, the company plans to make a reference design and recommended software specifications available to device manufacturers. Manufacturers can then design their own devices based on the Kayak specification.

Taiwan's Inventec is making products based on the design. The devices will be tested early next year over CDMA networks in Southeast Asia, Qualcomm said.

"Emerging markets will be a huge growth driver for the telecommunications industry in the coming years," Mark Hirsch, vice president of corporate marketing at Inventec, said in a statement.

Qualcomm's Kayak effort is just one of many that have emerged to help get low-cost, Internet-connected computing devices in the hands of people in the developing world. Nicholas Negroponte, the co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which is also trying to provide low-cost laptops to kids in developing regions. AMD, Intel, and Microsoft have also launched efforts to provide inexpensive devices in these markets.