Dell's 'Project Ophelia' might be my favorite gadget at CES

Dell's 'Project Ophelia' might be my favorite gadget at CES

Summary: The most interesting gadget at this year's Consumer Electronic Show isn't for consumers and is barely electronic. But it could very well change how people compute.

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TOPICS: CES, Cloud, Dell
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LAS VEGAS -- To be a consumer electronic, or not to be -- that is the question, here at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

At a trade show with tens of thousands of square feet of floor space overflowing with exceedingly consumer gadgets -- pink sparkly phone covers, pocketable and share-ready cameras, headphones in every color of the rainbow -- an awful lot of pressure to shun the business market here. (And we know what happens when a company does not.)

But enterprise companies are here, lurking in the shadows, conducting business deals in bars, restaurants and hotel rooms up and down the strip. If you know where to look, you'll find some intensely interesting stuff. I found one such thing last night, and it may very well be my favorite device at CES.

Late last night, the folks at Dell Wyse -- the cloud computing subsidiary of the American electronics company -- pulled back the curtain on its latest product. It's called "Project Ophelia," after the controversial, tormented female character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and it intends to bring computing to the masses by packing access to that capability into a thumb-sized device.

When I say computing, of course, I mean the full package. Ophelia allows you to convert almost any TV or computer monitor into a full-on computer. Simply plug it in, ensure you have a reliable Internet connection and watch as Google Android (version 4.1 "Jellybean") boots up and gives you everything from web browsing to apps to keyboard and mouse support. All that computing muscle? It's in the cloud. Ophelia is a pocketable gateway to your personal datacenter.

Thin- and zero-client computing has always promised this, of course, this outsourcing of computational capability to a rack of powerful servers somewhere else. But those devices over the years have resembled wired set-top boxes the size of ceramic bricks. They weren't the kind of thing you could throw in the breast pocket of your suit jacket.

With the pocketable, self-powered Ophelia, the cloud benefits remain the same: nothing of import is stored on the local device; it can be locked down by IT with a click, using software-as-a-service management; it's cheap enough that leaving it in a hotel room wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. (Face it, you've spent more at the bar.) Plug it into an available display, and access everything you were working on back at the office, wherever you are. For a more personal use case, access the photos, videos, music or games you have back at home. It's the next logical extension of cloud, mobility and BYOD in the workplace, and begins to refine these concepts to their conceptual end points.

One Dell executive who worked on the project said he didn't even take his work computer with him on family vacations anymore. If he needed to power up and get real work done -- not just smartphone-based e-mail management, but the whole computing hog -- he just plugged Ophelia into an available display. And really, why not take advantage of that big-screen, high-definition TV sitting in your hotel room?

There's a key point I haven't yet made: Ophelia will cost less than $100, insisted Dell Wyse GM Tarkan Maner at last night's event. (If I heard him correctly; it was awfully loud in there.) That's nice for tech professionals in developed markets, and important for cost-sensitive markets like the education sector. But it's even more critical for people in developing countries, for whom a personal laptop or smartphone is still too expensive. Ophelia is very much designed to bring connected computing to these people -- the billions who do not have smartphones or other connected devices, Maner said. The more Dell Wyse can shrink Ophelia's price point, Maner said, the better the opportunity for this underserved market. 

All this, from a plastic stick that's essentially an assemblage of ports (MHL, USB) and radios (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth).

In a brief demonstration, Dell Wyse executives played jitter-free 1080p video on a regular monitor perched on the table in a bustling Las Vegas restaurant. That kind of performance extends to video games and resource-intensive enterprise applications, too.

There is one catch: the MHL ("Mobile High-Definition Link") port standard that allows Ophelia to get power from its "host" device isn't all that prevalent -- it is simply too new, having been first introduced just four years ago. As Slashdot's Mark Hachman points out, Dell and Samsung offer the format in some of their products, but few others do.

Dell's Project Ophelia doesn't look like much. It isn't much, really. But it has just the right parts to make it a tremendously powerful enabler of computing. It's not hard to imagine everyone walking around with their own little cloud key. If you ask me, that's the most consumer electronic of all.

Topics: CES, Cloud, Dell

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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31 comments
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  • Okay

    So I can carry around this computer on a stick, a kbd and mouse? Why? If I am going to carry around the i/o devices, I might as well have a fully functional device. Or I need to purchase/use locally provided i/o devices. What was Mr. Dell executive using?

    Ophelia's form factor will have value when it contains an IR/laser which can be directed at a nearby flat surface to provide a virtual kbd and trackpad.
    Non-Euclidean
    • He was using touch, actually.

      The device supports touch-based input as well. I think that's the ultimate goal, actually, in terms of being the most flexible. (Obviously, the primary drawback to this is that you won't be able to get a ton of technical work done with only your fingers.)
      andrew.nusca
      • touch?

        Touch what? That tiny rounded device?
        danbi
        • A monitor that supports touch-based input.

          Dell, HP and others make them.
          andrew.nusca
          • I am nost seeing

            a whole lot of touch based moitors/flat panel tvs in any hotel I have stayed in in Vegas. Flat screen tv's? sure but definitely not touch supported.

            Oh and it is just Android, pass. Let me know when Windows is available on the same device then I might take a closer look.
            hoppmang
          • If you want windows

            It's going to be a heck of a lot bigger than a usb stick.
            Alan Smithie
          • Not really

            Windows fits fine on a USB stick, and doesn't require more hardware than android.
            grayknight
          • Windows Fits, but does not Run

            You still need a "normal" PC of some sort to LOAD/RUN Windows from a USB device. These USB sticks with Android are full-fledged ARM PC's without the monitor. As far as I know, there are no X86 PC's in that form factor, and I doubt Win RT has been ported to any of these ARM PC sticks (if anyone would even want it...).
            aroc
          • Windows?

            Please, I stopped thinking "Windows??" years ago.
            I don't know the specs on this but there are Android HDMI sticks all over the place from about $50.
            Red_One
    • Use Your Android Phone As Remote

      Can connect via bluetooth or Wifi, easy. Stop thinking PC, it's so 1990.
      Alan Smithie
    • xbox nano kinect

      better yet, have this thin client stick with kinect cameras in it.
      do it with ubuntu and you got a winner.
      warboat
    • So, this innovative device does everything my smart phone already does?

      I already have the connector cables to run a display off of my iPhone. (Although, I never use it.) My phone can also do this without wires using Airplay. I can remote desktop into my system. I can use a Bluetooth keyboard. I can easily access cloud storage and many of my apps already do that transparently. My iPhone can be remotely locked or erased.

      I guess I'm asking, "What exactly is innovative about this new device?" Perhaps it's the extra time we'll waste looking for an unused display just sitting around somewhere?

      Honestly, I don't see enough value or innovation in this device to warrant carrying yet another device around everywhere. If I'm going to carry another device, it will be my iPad, which shares everything stored on my phone automatically, and is instantly usable without having to hunt down an unused display somewhere. Sometimes I just scratch my head at what some companies spend money developing.
      BillDem
      • Re: So, this innovative device does everything my smart phone already does?

        Except cheaper.
        ldo17
    • There are very portable keyboards

      with trackpads, or a very portable mouse can be used to go with a keys-only keyboard (I would be interested in a Trackpoint portable keyboard myself). I have a quite serviceable Favi brand that is about the size of a TV remove with trackpad. It does require a bluetooth connection, and most of these Android sticks do not have that (seems the Wyse Ophelia does?), so for those, one needs a USB hub (probably powered is best) to plug into the one full-size USB host port common on these sticks.

      Still, it can be a more compact "I/O package"+Stick than tablets and notebooks.

      YMMV
      aroc
  • Should have a light projected keyboard and fingertip mouse...

    maybe you could carry it all in a lipstick bag lol
    dtdono0
    • have it as a watch

      best form factor is a watch which doubles as an externally powered thin client.
      the watch could also get charged while plugged in.
      warboat
  • So yesterdays news....

    If this was Dell/Wyse's design, then they missed the boat on project security as here in Aus the PC magazines have been puffing the "Andriod TV Stick" for months - admittedly only with single core processors (dual core in December) and without the semi-proprietary power provision from the specific TV set.

    If Dell doesn't price this into the same region as the existing Chinese units (MK802, UG802, etc) at under $80.00, then its a bust.
    rowan.evans@...
  • The BB Playbook has been doing this for ages

    The Blackberry Playbook can hook via hdmi to any flatscreen TV. And you can use all the features of your Playbook as well as access the web, have full touchscreen capability and use your BB phone as a remote control if so choose using the bridge feature. So yes, this is so yesterdays news.

    And you would have storage on your playbook as well. So if there are some documents in the cloud you need to access and alter, you could download to your playbook, make the changes while having a drink in the bar and then re-upload the changes when you have finished.
    Jillkm
    • Someone.....

      bought a Playbook?
      Red_One
    • No downloads.

      It's not cloud storage, it's the ultimate RDC - a pocket USB stick that turns any monitor into a zero-client RDC portal. Why would you "download, edit and upload" when you can just edit?
      Jeff_D_Programmer