Mountain View (CA) - The Cherrypal computer isn’t especially stylish, functional or cheap. But it may be the greenest PC you can buy today and it may be the very first cloud computer that should be taken seriously.
It is easy to perceive the Cherrypal as a toy (some may even consider it the Internet device Leap Frog should have come up with), but we have no doubt that despite its very limited horsepower, this computer could lead how average computing will look a few years down the road. Why? Read on to find out.
Tech specs: Underwhelming
What can you expect for $250 in a computer today? Admitted, the choices below $250 are limited, but there are some computers, if you spend some time looking. You are likely to end up with a new or refurbished system from discount PC companies such as Emachines, equipped with a single-core processor, 512 MB or 1 GB of memory and a hard drive with 160 to 250 GB capacity. $50 more will get you a new PC from Dell or HP similar equipped as the described refurbished machine.
The Cherrypal goes into a completely different direction. The heart of the PC is a 400 MHz Freescale MPC5121e mobileGT triple-core processor. Don’t get too excited about those three cores - it is a chip that can’t be compared to any Intel or AMD CPU, as it was originally developed to run devices such high-end navigation systems in cars. Other specs include 256 MB DDR2 memory, 4 GB of NAND flash memory to hold the Debian Linux-based operating system and the Firefox web browser, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, VGA out, and Audio out.
There is no monitor included. According to Cherrypal, buyers of the device are most likely to connect old monitors (as well as keyboards and mice) to the device - monitors that are still working, but are collecting dust somewhere in the house.
Clearly, this is a very basic computer. But while we haven’t seen the Cherrypal in person yet, we believe company CEO Max Seybold that the device has all the power it needs to serve its purpose - to be an easy to use cloud computing device.
All you really need for cloud computing
Cloud computing is the buzzword of these days. Microsoft, Adobe, Google and others believe that some day we all will not run huge local applications anymore, but access web services instead. Google’s online office applications or Adobe’s Photoshop Express are good examples for this trend. I personally have doubts how cloud computing will pan out, since there are very few online applications out there I would pay money for and, in the end, we are all used to owning software and running it from a local hard drive in a powerful PC.
The Cherrypal is, in this view, a disruptive product from every angle. The local storage capacity is very limited (at least if you do not connect a USB hard drive to it) and the integrated flash memory is not really meant to store a lot of data. It primarily serves as home for the Linux operating system and Firefox. Seybold told us, that the boot process of the system is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 seconds (if there are no updates, which are installed automatically) and users actually never see a Linux surface: What we typically understand as user interface is Firefox (as a single software layer) for the Cherrypal: It is the tool that allows users to access the "Cherrypal cloud" (in which you need to log in every time you use the device), surf the web, access online applications and store data: Every Cherrypal comes with 50 GB of free online storage, which is likely to be increased in the future, Seybold said. Cherrypal will finance this storage service through a "non-intrusive" advertising model, we learned.
Essentially, the Cherrypal box will be all you need to surf on the web, watch YouTube videos, watch Flash animations, write documents, create spreadsheets and edit your images. Think about a 1.3" high, 5.8" x 4.2" wide and 10.5 ounces light Internet in a box. What you can’t do with the Cherrypal is play games. In case you wonder, Seybold claims that the device is also very secure, as the system access the Internet through the Cherrypal Cloud and uses a hardware and software encrypted connection.
I have seen many thin clients come and go over the past 15 years, but current trends and technologies favor thin clients more than ever before and it is easy to see that, with some luck, the Cherrypal concept could be very successful.
The greenest PC on the planet?
Seybold believes that the Cherrypal is the greenest PC available. On one side, the PC is rated at a power consumption of only 2 watts and, according to Seybold, uses 80% fewer components than your average PC. However, on the other side, the case of the device is made from standard plastics, which aren’t bio-degradable and just as harmful to the environment as any other PC. But it is the vision behind the system, which may make it "greener": Seybold said that the Cherrypal is good enough to serve as Internet device for about 10 years, but he noted that, realistically, no buyer will keep the device for more than two or three years. In this case, Cherrypal offers its customers to buy the system back and resell it to third-world countries, which hopefully will keep the devices away from landfills for a longer period of time.
But: The Cherrypal isn’t what we would consider a sustainable device.
Greener than an Apple?
Sometimes there are interesting stories behind brand names - such as Blackberry, which is based on RIM’s belief that a fruit represents a friendly product, while the Blackberry itself represents the "premium" product among fruits (this idea has cost RIM apparently more than $500,000) and there is certainly the question why the Cherrypal is named Cherrypal.
Seybold told us that one of the focus group members reacted to the "green" claims of the company by stating that the device is "as green as an Apple", while another mentioned that the computer is much greener than an Apple and is more like a cherry. The company liked the idea so much that it decided to use it for the product, but Seybold was unable to claim the domain cherry.com and ended up with Cherrypal and cherrypal.com.
Lesson learned: A cherry is greener than an apple. Apparently.
The computer will be shipping in late July. Etailers such as Amazon.com will be carrying the device towards the end of the year.
Seybold thinks he has a product that can sell in the "hundreds of thousands" and we believe that he has an enticing product that may not appeal to every user but it is certainly a device that could make mainstream cloud computing much more attractive.
We will try to get our hands on of these as soon as possible and let you know if the Cherrypal is the knockout PC we believe it can be.