PCs for technophobes go head-to-head

New Alex laptop takes on Valerie Singleton's SimplicITy range
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A UK vendor has launched a new specialised notebook aimed at technophobes and computer novices, adding to what is rapidly becoming a mini-sector of ‘idiot-proof’ PCs.

The Broadband Computer Company’s Alex laptop uses a version of the Ubuntu Linux operating system, which includes basic functions such as web access, email, a media player and photo editor. Andrew Holmes, product director and co-founder of the firm, claims it was designed “by people who themselves don’t like computers”.

The launch represents a growing trend towards stripped down, basic PCs with reduced functionality aimed at groups assumed to be put off by standard PC set-ups. Alex comes just a few months after TV presenter Valerie Singleton announced the SimplicITy range of Linux PCs for elderly people. There have also been numerous similar stripped-down devices aimed at schools.

“We are competing with SimplicITy to an extent, but what you get from us is support,” Holmes told PCR. “Where SimplicITy has taken a flavour of Linux and offered you four big buttons to click, I think it just leaves you there. What we’re saying is this is a subscription – you pay by the month so we will be with you every step of the way.”

As Holmes suggests, this service comes at a cost. On top of the £400 price tag for the 15.4-inch laptop (soon to be upgraded to 15.6-inch), users must pay a monthly fee of £9.99, or £24.99 if they want broadband too.

“Our research is very clear – people, especially older users, are concerned about starting new things, being confused and having to rely on friends and family for help. We found that in terms of pricing, people were perfectly happy with £9.99 a month, plus the hardware price. The market we’re looking for – potential silver surfers – has got a bit more disposable income and we hope they’ll be prepared to pay for the service that we offer,” Holmes added.

Alex is currently being sold directly, but The Broadband Computer Company will be looking to move the device into retail outlets and ‘special interest groups’.

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