Tech Watch: Intel, Asus Let You Re-Invent the PC; Microsoft Lets Your Xbox Re-Invent You

WePC brings Digg-style crowd-sourcing to customizing laptops and Microsoft will let users customize their Xbox 360 with avatars.

Blurring the line between a crowd-sourcing experiment and a cheap marketing ploy, Asus and Intel have paired up to launch a site called WePC, where users can discuss the ideal features of their dream-laptops, and even “build” a virtual version of their perfect machine. Ideas contributed so far: waterproof keyboards, roll-up displays, complete upgradability, and so on. Naturally, the present-day specs of several Asus/Intel laptops are never more than a click away, lest you create your dream machine and discover that, Lo! It’s the same as a computer Asus already makes.


Taking a cue from user-gen hubs like Reddit and Digg, users of WePC and vote each other’s ideas up or down, and add strings of commentary to flesh out ideas. According to Engadget, Asus designers will actually lurk the site and screen for practical, appealing innovations that can be implemented. First on that list might be a suggestion from a user named ndroberts, who writes simply: “NO MORE BLOATWARE — enough said.”

Best Buy dipped its big blue toe into a project like this a few weeks ago, when it announced special models of Toshiba and HP notebooks that would be in-store only and spec’d based on “insights from customers… that address their needs.” Chip-maker VIA has also recently begun a related initiative called Global Mobility Bazaar, which it hopes will allow second-tier netbook makers to offer cheap, short-life products in developing markets. VIA has recruited 15 other companies in as partners to help push the project along.

One of those 15 companies is Microsoft’s, who is incidentally adding more functionality to their Xbox gaming system that will, like WePC, bring customization to the masses. The difference: while WePC lets you design your own laptop, a new feature in the “New Xbox Experience,” as it’s called, will let users create avatars of themselves through which they can shop on the Xbox marketplace. In other words, they’re letting the Xbox re-invent its users.

With Xbox Avatars, players can create a special character that stay with their profile no matter what game they’re playing, and collect attributes for high performance. The characters are customizable with specific physical features and unique clothing and accessories, which can be purchased from an “avatar clothing store” on the marketplace.

Microsoft product manager Robin Burrowes told Videogamer that while the role of the avatar in the Xbox environment is still evolving prior to its November release, the company hopes that eventually, rewards from gameplay will be somehow be reflected in a given user’s character, be it through clothing accessories, badges, or other accoutrements. Why doesn’t someone make a notebook that can do that?

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I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.