The Mission Mini and the Mission One computers, both recently released at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, are two unadorned white and bamboo boxes, each about the size of a wireless router. The computers have one USB port in the front, a couple of places to connect cables in the back, some perforations for cooling on the top or side—and that’s about it. They’re clean, simple, and unassuming—so much so that you might choose to display one on your desk instead of shoving into some dark corner.
They also cost $129 and $249 respectively.
The two computers are part of a new line by Endless, a startup in San Francisco that launched five years ago with a mission of making computers and operating systems affordable enough for everyone.
It’s the latest iteration of the company’s early computer, the Endless Mini, a spherical PC made of shiny plastic that was purpose-designed for people in developing countries and looks vaguely like an oversized Tamagotchi. The Endless Mini sells for $79—that’s just the computer; no monitor or keyboard—making it accessible to those for whom a computer has never been financially within reach before.
“A computer makes a big difference,” says Endless CEO and chief of product Matt Dalio, when I ask why the company decided to focus on desktops for emerging markets rather than smartphones, which already have a fairly large presence in developing countries. For parents, Dalio says, phones may be fine, but students today need computers—to research, writer papers, and learn to code.
Would I want to write this article on my iPhone, he asks? I definitely would not. And that’s the idea behind Endless—that no one should have to, no matter where you live. That’s particularly true now that ARM processors—the processors that power your iPhone, tablets, Apple TV—have gotten so high quality. Endless keeps the cost of its computers down partly by using an ARM processor, which is only a fraction of the price of an Intel processor typically used in desktops. Endless also has its own proprietary operating system, which is built to be simple enough for anyone to use and has embedded functions that teach kids how to code. That OS is available online for free, which completely eliminates one of the largest cost factors.
As for the design, Endless spent months in the field, in places like Guatemala, Mexico, and China, talking to potential consumers about what they wanted out of a computer. The Endless Mini is shiny and futuristic-looking because that’s what consumers in the developing world prefer: something that looks brand new, modern, and eye-catching. “In a house in Guatemala, everything is rustic and wood and has character,” says Dalio, “what they wanted was something that looks new, and that would stand apart in their houses.”
When it came to a U.S. audience, Endless had to pare down its design aesthetic a bit for the release of the Mission computers. Americans, they found, craved objects that look authentic, whose design was simple, cleaner and unadorned.
What makes the Mission computers more expensive that the Endless Mini, Dalio says, is just the material that they use—it’s slightly higher quality. But Endless is of the mindset that design itself shouldn’t cost extra. That Apple products can be more expensive is due in large part to the industrial design and the cult-like following that Apple has gained because of it. But making a computer into a beautiful design object doesn’t have to be pricey, as evidenced by Endless’s products.
“Pretty plastic and ugly plastic cost the same amount,” says Dalio. “Design is just the amount of care you put into it.” Endless doesn’t charge for the latter, and its products are making owning a computer more accessible for everyone.