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​Sick of apps, mice and menus? Finland's Solu might have an answer

Solu, the Finnish hardware startup that wants you to give up everything you know about the PC, has now reached its Kickstarter target.

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Ideally you won't care what app you are using on a Solu. Image: Solu

After a flashy US launch a few weeks ago, Solu, headed by Finnish developer Kristoffer Lawson, has surpassed its €200,000 Kickstarter target and will now get to work delivering the product to over 500 supporters.

With a slick wooden finish, the handheld touchscreen device straddles mobile and desktop but fits neither category perfectly.

It's as small as a smartphone, yet can't make calls and looks something like an Apple TV. It runs a customised version of Android but, like Google's Chromebook, it's built to run HTLM5 web-apps with offline support.

Lawson admitted to ZDNet that Solu is a crazy project. But he feels vindicated by reaching the Kickstarter target, despite the relatively modest sum. Lawson said it has gained $2m in funding since launching two years ago.

"There are people out there excited about change, and excited about doing things more efficiently. It's a fantastic feeling. But of course this is just the beginning. We have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to make a really big impact on the computing world," Lawson said.

Solu's hardware headlined the fundraising campaign but that isn't the main story, according to Lawson. The whole project hinges on SoluCloud and the fledging SoluOS working as claimed and attracting developers.

Still, Lawson boasted that Solu will be the first mobile hardware that's been designed and made in Finland since Nokia's handset business was acquired by Microsoft.

He didn't want to reveal the name of the company it has contracted to make the device but said it is a "fairly big factory" in Oulu, Finland, that's previously made Nokia hardware.

The northern outpost was formerly home to a large Nokia campus and has emerged as Finland's hardware capital, with ARM and Russia's YotaPhone setting up shop there alongside numerous startups.

Being a Finnish project, it's not surprising that some of Solu's employees were formerly at Nokia, including Teemu Lepistö, Solu's core software developer who led the software team behind Nokia's Android Open Source Project handset, the Nokia X2.

Meanwhile Solo's head of hardware Maria Herajärvi, also a one-time Nokian, is running things up in Oulu.

Solu arrives amid a resurgence in mobile-PC convergence. Google has denied speculation it would collapse Chrome OS into Android, while Microsoft is navigating it with the Windows 10 Continuum feature for smartphones.

Solu also follows Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth's failed bid to crowd-fund a high-end Ubuntu phone that would have acted as a full computer once docked to a larger display.

However, the Finnish firm wants to achieve more than convergence, hoping people will buy into its plan to ditch mice and menus for "social computing", Lawson said.

In Solu's world you won't know and won't particularly care what software you're using, so long as it works.

"The user doesn't need to know exactly what the code is and what the application is in the background," explained Lawson.

"If I'm working on a 3D file within a project and you're a member, I can tap and share that directly with you and the team and they don't need to install anything to work on that 3D file. They just zoom in and start working," he said.

Essentially, your friends and colleagues will select your software for you. While that isn't such a radical break from the norm for users, why would developers want to build or port an app for a platform that discourages users from knowing what product they're using?

BlackBerry, Mozilla, Microsoft and Finland's Jolla have had enough troubles attracting developers to alternative platforms with a small user base.

Lawson thinks Solu has the answer to this problem. It involves an all-you-can-eat software subscription and near unlimited storage. It is also blending Mozilla's HTML5-led approach with Firefox OS -- which it hoped to draw web developers to its open mobile platform -- and the path trodden by BlackBerry and Jolla, which developed their own OSes but equipped them to run Android apps.

"We have a revenue-sharing model for our subscription a bit like Spotify, which is whenever people use your applications we pass on that subscription to the developers. This means that developers get money even by accident -- for example by users collaborating," Lawson said.

Any HTML5 app that's made for the web will run on Solu devices. Solu's collaborative features will work better between Solu hardware users, but Lawson says non-Solu users will be able to connect with Solu devices from a normal browser.

Users can run Android apps if they choose, but developers won't earn revenue unless the app has been ported to its HTML5-friendly environment.

The Android version of Microsoft Word and Skype runs "pretty nicely" on Solu, according to Lawson.

"It becomes a full-blown, desktop-type experience in the Android version. So, you have a mouse pointer, you can move around with the Solu device, which acts as a touchpad in that setup," he said.

Still, the company has its work cut out to deliver the product, which includes building a core set of apps that it hopes to ship with the device. Lawson said the apps are currently "rudimentary", but it has lined up a basic document editor and presentation tool.

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