Litl Video Tour: A Design Miracle, a Challenging Sell

The company's CEO offers a video tour of a computer designed for the way we live now.

litl

"The idea for Litl really came watching my family use computers around the house," says CEO John Chuang, a serial entrepreneur best known for founding and selling Aquent (aka MacTemps). People aren't after hardware; they're after content, and that content lives on the web. The best home computer, therefore, is one that comes closest to completely disappearing. Based upon that insight, Chuang took almost three years to develop the Litl, which begins shipping this week for $699.

Your typical computer is performance oriented--when's the last time you saw Dell or HP advertising a computer's user interface (which is ruled by Microsoft anyhow), rather than the processor speed or screen inches? The Litl is designed around how people actually use their computers in the home. As such, it's not really a laptop or a netbook or even a smart TV. It's a hybrid unto itself.

The computer they produced has no hard-drive--the idea is that you don't need one, since your average at-home computer user just needs web access for getting at their content. The OS, therefore, is dead simple, and utterly devoid of clutter--web pages each get a "card," which you can click on to enlarge. The case, meanwhile, is suited to calling up content, and then sitting back to consume it: There's a traditional laptop mode, and then it flips over to an "easel" mode, suited to passive viewing. If you need a bigger screen, the device has an HDMI jack, for connecting to your TV.

On paper, the Litl may not look like much--your typical netbook is similarly powered, works offline, has a hard drive, and is $200 cheaper. But Litl isn't selling hardware specs; they're selling a stone-cold brilliant design. And to appreciate it, you have to be able to play with the device.

But for now, Litl is only being sold online. And therein lies the problem. Without handling it, you'll never appreciate the thoroughness of the design language--the scroll wheel on the laptop, echoed in the scroll wheel of the remote; the perfectly weighted hinge which doubles as a handle and hides the battery; the sturdiness of the case; the brightness of the screen; the way the packaging and branding looks domestic but not quite feminine; or even the fact that when the power pack is plugged in, a tiny, embedded LED illuminates the dot of the '"i" in "Litl".

Litl

The computer really does disappear in easel mode--you can barely see the keyboard behind, because of the black and white color contrasts of the case. All while occupying a tiny footprint, meaning that you can set it down on a nightstand, a couch, or a kitchen counter.

Litl

It all amounts to a massive gamble: Sure, computers should be better suited to how we actually use them. Litl shows they can be. But will people really appreciate the problems it solves? Or are they content with making due? The venture is self-funded. Chuang hasn't brought in venture capitalists. He wants the company to be able to tolerate risk in a way that investors would not.

As for sales, Chuang argues that if users finally get their hands on the Litl, they'll appreciate what lies behind the premium price. Meanwhile, the company is also backing up the device with a two-year money-back guarantee, on the idea that seeing is believing. And if that still doesn't convince people? James Gardner, Litl's chief marketer, offers the hard sell: "How much is it worth to you, to never have to fix your mother-in-law's computer?"

Litl

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14 Comments

  • YN Leung

    Love the simplicity but not the price point. Not a geek tool but its clearly a useable tool rather than a "computer".Im using more online storage packages so i can pick up files anywhere, anytime and crashing is less a concern. This works as a well designed dumb terminal with a bit more smarts.

  • YN Leung

    Love the simplicity but not the price point. Not a geek tool but its clearly a useable tool rather than a "computer".Im using more online storage packages so i can pick up files anywhere, anytime and crashing is less a concern. This works as a well designed dumb terminal with a bit more smarts.

  • YN Leung

    Love the simplicity but not the price point. Not a geek tool but its clearly a useable tool rather than a "computer".Im using more online storage packages so i can pick up files anywhere, anytime and crashing is less a concern. This works as a well designed dumb terminal with a bit more smarts.

  • Chris Reich

    The idea of an Internet Appliance has never made it---at $700, I don't think this will either. Now, If it had the Full MS Office Suite on board, it could be useful.

    For now, this 'function' is met nicely by the I-Phone. I would love a "Do-it-all" small footprint notebook with the ability to give a presentation, show a video, make a spreadsheet, check email, etc. Intenet only? No.

    Why not this...Why not a an OS in ROM? Remember the instant boot of the Amiga? Why can't we get the OS in ROM and save all the wated hours of booting up. I bet more computers would get shut off more often saving a LOT of energy.

    Chris Reich, BizPhyZ.com

  • Joshua Katinger

    "How much is it worth to you, to never have to fix your mother-in-law's computer?"

    Brilliant sell. Rich mentions in his comment

    "Nobody will pay $700 for that when $700 buys a full featured laptop that can do the same stuff AND has tons of storage, ports, etc." ...

    ...true for power users like you and me Rich...but all that "stuff" equals additional pain and confusion for my mother or her contemporaries. ALL she wants to do is email, Facebook, online shopping, and watch YouTube and the like. I totally get the concept of paying more for less. Not for myself though!

  • JohnRachel Jackson

    Agreed too little detail. Also agree that at $700 it is too much given the other laptops out there in this price range. HOWEVER, innovation often sounds like excess as did the IPOD and the entire APPLE line for that matter. $2000 for a laptop? It might have a shot

  • Douglas Steel

    Thanks again Cliff; I regularly enjoy your posts. Oftentimes the value of a technology is tied to how it solves a problem for a specific market. I agree with other posts that the price is not competitive for knowledgable technology users. But consider a different market; I would love to get one of these for my 85 year old father. The design is nicely stripped down, with a focus on what a person wants the Litl to do for them. I would pay a premium to give my dad a simple device that he could use to interact with the online world beyond the walls of the retirement home. I look at this and think of the "Jitterbug" - a geriatric-targeted cell phone. The Litl could be a comparable product for that market. I wonder if John Chuang has considered that?

  • Craig Brown

    It seems that I would be paying about $500 to never have to fix my mother-in-laws computer. Probably not worth it. My interest level is about $200.

  • Craig Brown

    It seems that I would be paying about $500 to never have to fix my mother-in-laws computer. Probably not worth it. My interest level is about $200.

  • Greg Steggerda

    Interesting the cycle that products go through -- specialized to generalized to specialized. After a generation of laptops designed to do everything we now see netbooks, e-readers and now the Litl popping up in specialized nooks because of the things we all hate about laptops: short battery life, too hot and heavy to have on your lap for long, takes too long to start up, etc . . . I now do more with my smartphone, use a netbook at work for portability to meetings, and do my serious computing on my desktop at home. The laptop mostly gets pulled out for travel.

  • Michael Pratt

    I like the idea, but $200 would be a more realistic price if you really want to sell these.

  • Craig Brown

    It seems that I would be paying about $500 to never have to fix my mother-in-laws computer. Probably not worth it. My interest level is about $200.

  • Rich Levin

    FAIL. Nobody will pay $700 for that when $700 buys a full featured laptop that can do the same stuff AND has tons of storage, ports, etc. Classic case of reinventing the netpliance. We tried this in the 90s and it didn't work then, and it won't sell now.

  • Pierre Johnson

    Looks great. But there is scarce detail on how you add content. All seems to be relying on storing files in Internet, as there is no OS. Therefore almost 700 $ seems not to be a competitive price enough for this type of hardware.