Next-Gen PC design made in Melbourne, for China

Student-designed PC targets emerging markets
  • Liz Tay (LinuxWorld)
  • 25 May, 2007 14:07

Twenty-one year old John Leung was awarded a $US25,000 first prize by Bill Gates himself last week, in Microsoft's annual Next-Gen PC Design Competition. An undergraduate architecture student at the University of Melbourne, Leung's MADE in China submission took a novel approach to computing products and services, with the aim of bringing PCs to the emerging Chinese market.

MADE in China involves a streamlined design in which the PC itself contains no CPU, hard drive, graphics card or sound card. Software and components are stored by a service provider and accessed wirelessly on demand. The PC is operated via a touch-screen interface that is based on an Asian-style dining platter, and uses special chopsticks-like styli to enter commands.

At a closer look, it is clear that Leung's submission wasn't just a pretty design, but an intelligent business model aimed at China's 1.3-billion-person population. Liz Tay speaks with Leung about his vision, inspiration, and plans for the future.

When did you begin designing the MADE in China computer, and what inspired you to embark on the project in the first place?

It was when my grandmother from China said to me, 'I will never learn how to use the computer. It's expensive, complicated and irrelevant - I don't want to even touch it!', that I knew I could do something about it with my design skills.

I loved the PC and I wanted to spread the joy to everyone around me. MADE in China is all about spreading the use of PC to new users as well as catering for the need of existing users.

The design was initiated when Microsoft announced the [Next-Gen PC Design] competition for 2006-07. I took all the time I could to investigate and found that there were so many PCs in the market that were made in china but none of which are actually made for China, it really inspired me to design one - so that even my grandmother and a three-year-old toddler will be interested in using.

click for image
MADE in China's dining-platter design and chopsticks-like styli could bring a sense of familiarity to computing in the Chinese market.

Could you please briefly describe the design. What are some of your favourite features?

MADE in China spreads the use of the PC to the entire 1.3 billion population of this rapidly-developing nation. The revolutionary hardware and infrastructure creates a PC that is simple, affordable, profitable, and environmental - all without compromising performance, aesthetic, and convenience. Simply put, it is a $99 PC that only requires $1 a day to run, but as powerful as your current PC!

My favourite feature is one which is actually not listed on my 10 page design presentation but definitely possible with the MADE infrastructure. If your PC is stolen or crashed (especially just before a work submission), all you have to do is to get a another one from the shop or your friend, log-in as yourself, and instantly all your installed programs and data files will be in that system - exactly the way you had them! "Computer Cloning" is a feature of MADE in China.

Page Break

Why did you focus particularly on the Chinese market?

Not only because I was born in Hong Kong and had a deep connection with the country and the culture, I saw that there is a lot of talent and potential coming out from China.

Considering its rapid growth, spreading the use of the PC will definitely be beneficial for China and the world as a whole. I think technology advancement should not just provide more for those who already have, but also consider for those who have lagged a generation or have never had and pave an easy way for them to catch up or enter into the market.

How do you feel about the Microsoft award?

I've been honoured top awards by Sony and other international firms before, but being recognized by Bill Gates at the age of 21 has been the most rewarding experience yet!

I've heard from industry-insiders saying that it is not so easy to enter and work for Microsoft. Yet there are a lot of good ideas out there from young people around the world, like something hidden under the deep sea. I think it is a good opportunity for young designers to get themselves more exposure and for Microsoft to discover new talents and how the public (especially designers who usually have broader views) envisions the future. I was glad that Microsoft has decided to make it an annual contest.

Even before the competition result was announced, ChinaTimes already named MADE in China as one of the two most outstanding entries - the other one was Zeed+, which came third [in Microsoft's competition]. MADE in China has also made some fans on the internet. When I noticed that some bloggers called it "the sexiest PC in the world", I was flattered with goose bumps! However, MADE in China is more than just the oriental aesthetics, it is a whole package together with the MADE infrastructure.

What technology needs to be further developed before MADE in China becomes a reality?

I've designed MADE in China so that it only requires the advancement in one technology to be realized - mobile network technology. In the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) show 2006 in Hong Kong, I've already seen demonstrations of fast enough networks which could deliver high definition content to individual customers.

However, to materialize this new holistically beneficial platform, it also requires the collaboration from hardware, software and telecommunication giants from around the globe. I'm sure that within the next 10 years, MADE in China will definitely be achievable.

Page Break

How have you come up with your predictions and business models?

I was looking at the 3G video & Internet phones of today and thought, 'What's going to be next? What will give customers and businesses a brand new experience when, very soon, we will have the mobile technology for 4G, 5G and even 10G!", so I started doing some research.

Considering the large bandwidth of the future services, I knew it would definitely be possible to broadcast individual high-definition video content to each mobile phone. In that case, mouse data, USB data and the rest could also be easily transferred to the end terminal. By then, that terminal wouldn't be a mobile phone any more, it would be a computer - and it became the MADE in China hardware.

I think MADE in China caught Bill Gate's interest because in WinHEC, he did say that in the future "The phone is going to be the PC, and the PC is going to be the phone" and my design is exactly the result of that evolution trend - except I was aiming for the home market instead of the portable market.

Have you received any interest from service providers or device manufacturers yet?

I am still waiting for the interest from service providers and manufacturers because it is definitely feasible to produce such a holistically beneficial PC with the introduction of 4G mobile network or later.

click for image
Leung, who goes by the title John@AARIVE, with business partner Recka@AARIVE.

Do you plan on pursuing MADE in China as a business, or will you be focusing on other designs in the future?

I hope to pursue MADE in China, but it does require a large collaboration from different industry giants to materialize such innovation - similar to that of the launching of the 3G mobile network. A single-person effort is impossible.

At the moment, I will focus on designing for any interested parties while waiting for someone to knock on my door regarding MADE in China. I know it will happen sooner or later, just look at all the benefits, potentials, and how easily it can be manufactured!

I'm an undergraduate architecture student in the University of Melbourne. I enjoy exploiting my creativity and have a dream of being a renowned designer. I hope to get my innovations across to the world through my "design band", AARIVE Design [of which Leung is the "band leader"]. In regards to the prize money, it will support me while I write a book about design that I want to get published.