It’s baffling that no one’s really overhauling laptop design. They’re getting thinner and smaller, while capabilities and processing power swell, but the user interface stays exactly the same. Litl, a brand-new laptop, isn’t going to change the world–but it’s proof of what a set of excellent designers can do, if given a bit of breathing room.
The design pedigree is flagrantly high-caliber: One Laptop Per Child designer Yves Behar created the case; Abbott Miller designed the logo; and Lisa Strausfeld, our recent Master of Design, did the GUI, alongside Christian Marc Schmidt. There’s a joke about Voltron in there somewhere.
The biggest innovations lie in the interface: It has two modes. One functions like an ordinary laptop. But flip the screen open some more, and it becomes an easel for media viewing. (Litl dubs those two the “lean forward” and “lean back” modes.)
In terms of capabilities, it’s one of the first computers out there to rely totally on cloud computing: It has no hard drive, and doesn’t run files or apps on its own. Everything works through the Web–relying on services like Flickr, Gmail, and Facebook. At the same time, it’s too lux to be considered a pure netbook–the company calls it a “Webbook.”
Each service you open gets a dedicated “card” on the interface. In the laptop mode, the cards are arranged like thumbnails; clicking on one brings up, full screen. (You can view 12 at a time; the blue scroll wheel shuffles through the rest.)
In easel mode, the cars sit in a stack, and you “tune in” by shuffling through them with a remote–like flipping channels on a TV:
Last, but not least are the design details, and in particular Abbot Miller and Jeremy Hoffman’s logo. They designed the looping script to look a tad feminine and a bit like the computer itself, recalling the angle it sits at in easel mode. The colors, logotype, and packaging are all meant to seem domestic rather than business-like (as is the case with 99% of all laptop design). It all amounts to a design that transforms the Litl’s features into a full-fledged brand–even the company’s business cards fold over and sit upright:
Now the bad news: At $700, Litl seems a bit oddly placed. It’s basically like a stripped down netbook, but it’s almost as expensive as a full-powered laptop. It’s features are all about families, using technologies at home–which is great, but otherwise, you’ve got a $700 computer that doesn’t work without WiFi. Kind of a hard sell. Now, if Dell or someone would only hire Strausfeld & Co–then we might have a gamechanger.