Monday, 27 April 2009

The lesson from OQO

A lot of people online are lamenting the business troubles of the OQO mini-computer. Wired's commentary is pretty typical: "When OQO’s excited developers showed me a prototype behind closed doors seven years ago, it was clear that the company was ahead of its time. Now, its time appears to be up." (Link)

Baloney. OQO's time never arrived in the first place.

I'm always sad to see any startup run into trouble; especially a device company, because they're so rare. OQO did some beautiful things technologically. But in my opinion, they never had a chance as a business. There just wasn't a significant market for a shrunken, compromised PC at the same price as a full-size laptop. At first OQO was supposed to be a horizontal market device, and when that didn't take off the company went after business verticals (the place where struggling consumer technologies go to die). Sometimes that works, but usually it ends up being a gradual way to wind down the company.

But why, if OQO is failing, are netbooks taking off? Two words: They're cheap. It's one thing to ask someone to pay $900 for a less functional notebook. It's quite another to ask them to pay $300.

The lesson: Don't build something just because you can. Make sure there's a real market for your device before you create it. Geeky coolness will impress Wired reporters, but it won't get you a lot of sales from real people.

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