At CES Dell pulled back the curtain on its latest product. It's called "Project Ophelia," after the controversial, tormented female character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and it intends to bring computing to the masses by packing access to that capability into a thumb-sized device.
When I say computing, of course, I mean the full package. Ophelia allows you to convert almost any TV or computer monitor into a full-on computer. Simply plug it in, ensure you have a reliable Internet connection and watch as Google Android (version 4.1 "Jellybean") boots up and gives you everything from web browsing to apps to keyboard and mouse support. All that computing muscle? It's in the cloud. Ophelia is a pocketable gateway to your personal datacenter.
Thin- and zero-client computing has always promised this, of course, this outsourcing of computational capability to a rack of powerful servers somewhere else. But those devices over the years have resembled wired set-top boxes the size of ceramic bricks. They weren't the kind of thing you could throw in the breast pocket of your suit jacket.
With the pocketable, self-powered Ophelia, the cloud benefits remain the same: nothing of import is stored on the local device; it can be locked down by IT with a click, using software-as-a-service management; it's cheap enough that leaving it in a hotel room wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. (Face it, you've spent more at the bar.) Plug it into an available display, and access everything you were working on back at the office, wherever you are. For a more personal use case, access the photos, videos, music or games you have back at home. It's the next logical extension of cloud, mobility and BYOD in the workplace, and begins to refine these concepts to their conceptual end points.
One Dell executive who worked on the project said he didn't even take his work computer with him on family vacations anymore. If he needed to power up and get real work done -- not just smartphone-based e-mail management, but the whole computing hog -- he just plugged Ophelia into an available display. And really, why not take advantage of that big-screen, high-definition TV sitting in your hotel room?
There's a key point I haven't yet made: Ophelia will cost less than $100, insisted Dell Wyse GM Tarkan Maner at last night's event. (If I heard him correctly; it was awfully loud in there.) That's nice for tech professionals in developed markets, and important for cost-sensitive markets like the education sector. But it's even more critical for people in developing countries, for whom a personal laptop or smartphone is still too expensive. Ophelia is very much designed to bring connected computing to these people -- the billions who do not have smartphones or other connected devices, Maner said. The more Dell Wyse can shrink Ophelia's price point, Maner said, the better the opportunity for this underserved market.