Intel and Google are taking big steps in the nascent field of computer sticks. Resembling a flash drive, these pocket-sized dongles pop into any display with an HDMI port and turn it into a computer. While they won’t be the first such product, they’ll be the biggest players to join the ranks. It remains to be seen just how well this approach will be received, and how each company’s fairly divergent efforts will fare.
The primary question, of course, is what a customer would be using any of these for, and in what circumstances. Portability and low price are the two big selling points, and both result in diminished computing capability compared to a PC or laptop. In this regard, Intel’s Compute Stick offers the most muscle: 32GB of storage space and full operating systems against the Chromebit’s 16GB and web-only OS, with a micro SD slot for an even more storage. Consumers can choose a more robust model featuring Windows 8.1 or a scaled-down version running Linux. And although current iterations require a USB plug-in for power, Intel hopes to eventually solve that through the HDMI port as well.
While the Chromebit doesn’t offer as much, it arguably doesn’t need to; the entire point of the Chrome OS is to act as a portal to the internet and Google’s array of speedy online tools. Minimal local storage doesn’t matter as much if the user can tap into their 1TB Google Drive for $10 a month, and that data will remain if the Chromebit itself is lost or damaged. The Chromebit also boasts a lower price (less than $100, compared to $149 for Intel’s Windows stick), stronger wifi capabilities, and a proven track record with its spiritual predecessor the Chromecast. And on a minor note of convenience, the device’s swiveling head will give it a low (and safer) profile against the backside of monitors and tvs.
Impending technological developments will likely play a large role in the competitiveness of these products. Google’s success will scale with increasing internet access, and Intel may stand to benefit from Microsoft’s explorations into a more bare-bones, cloud-friendly edition of Windows.