The Litl Computer That Could? Boston Startup Tries a New Take on the Home Internet Appliance

11/4/09Follow @wroush

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hardware design. It’s the simplified operating environment, and the decision to pull almost everything from the Web, that really set the project apart from what traditional desktop and laptop computer makers, from Dell to HP to Sony to Acer to Apple, have been building for lo these many years.

But I had a question for Chuang: Isn’t he concerned that consumers just won’t get it, and that in trying to carve out a new category for itself, the Litl Webbook will simply fall between the cracks? After all, other entertainment devices such as digital photo frames and personal video players perform similar functions for a lot less money. And for an equivalent sum, a person could could buy a very nice netbook, which will handle not just Web content but also the full panoply of third-party software developed for the Windows world. [Update 11/4/09: Indeed, such criticisms are surfacing in the blogosphere even faster than I thought they would.]

Using the Litl WebbookChuang says he thinks consumers will be willing to pay for simplicity. “We have everything they need and nothing they don’t,” he says. “We think that at $699, we are the best value in the world, because we have things that other computers don’t have at any price. You cannot get a better screen or an easier-to-use user interface, or HDMI plug-and-play like you do here. You can’t get our ability to integrate and display all your online photos and share them and project them onto a giant TV. So we think we’re a really great value.”

It may take a while to tell whether consumers agree. Chuang says Litl doesn’t plan to mount an expensive national marketing campaign, but will instead let the buzz about the Webbook spread by word of mouth, while focusing its internal efforts on creating more channels of content for the Webbook and keeping customers happy. (It’s kicking off that effort with a “caffeine-powered meet-and-greet” launch party today at the Starbucks at 755 Boylston Street, just around the corner from Litl’s offices; the party runs from 10:30 a.m. through noon.)

Recruiting customers who believe in the product is more important right now than finding a lot of them, Chuang says. “We can have a long-term view because we’re self-funded,” he says. “We know we have a great device, and right now we want to make sure we sell it to customers who are buying it for the right reasons.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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