Dell Wyse surprises us with the announcement of Android Mini-PC/thin client, but not in a good way.

It appears the effects of the Dell acquisition have Wyse making an interesting turn towards the consumer side of the spectrum. Project Ophelia, which was announced at CES and covered fairly extensively around the interwebs, is an Android Jelly Bean device on a USB stick that converts just about any modern display into an Android device.

It appears the effects of the Dell acquisition have Wyse making an interesting turn towards the consumer side of the spectrum. Project Ophelia, which was announced at CES and covered fairly extensively around the interwebs, is an Android Jelly Bean device on a USB stick that converts just about any modern display into an Android device. The idea is that it can function as a work and personal device for both consumption and creation of information from just about anywhere, all managed by Wyse Cloud Client Manager.

Device support is fairly broad, working with any display that has an HDMI port and a USB port. (If the display has the new MHL standard, you only need the HDMI port. MHL, or Mobile High-Definition Link, is essentially USB over HDMI, so if your display doesn't support it then this Ophelia thing needs the USB port for power. I mention this because some coverage only mentions MHL, which makes it sound exotic when it really isn't. MHL adoption is growing, and can be found on a number of currently-for-sale TVs and monitors.)

Dell Wyse sees this as a device that organizations can hand out to employees for use on the road or at home. The user would plug it into a hotel TV, for instance, or their TV or monitor at home, and have access to their work environment via either native applications or remote desktop clients. They'd also have access to just about anything else that Android has to offer--kind of like a Google TV. 

It sounds somewhat intriguing, but when you really look at it, this device is little more than the Android Mini-PCs that gained notoriety at CES 2012, with centralized management added. These Mini PCs run from $40 for knockoffs to $200 for name brand devices like the FXI Cotton Candy. The use cases for Android Mini-PCs are niche at best, so it's interesting to see Dell Wyse going down this path. It seems the only difference in use case (we don't know functionality yet) is that Wyse Ophelia devices have the management bits included in them so that they can be managed by Wyse Cloud Client Manager. Even that isn't much of a difference, though, because you can simply install the agent bits on one of the other Android Mini-PCs, just like you would a phone or tablet.

I like Wyse, and I really want to like something like this, but I'm having a hard time coming up with a legitimate use case. First, unless you're using a touch screen display, you'll need a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to control it. So 99% of the people that use this will also be buying a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. If I'm bringing a keyboard and mouse with me, why the hell don't I just bring a laptop that does more than what this device can do, can be managed and secured, and doesn't monopolize the TV or monitor? This, for the record, is the one of the arguments we had against the Motorola Atrix thin client phone. Another thing to mention here is that you have to sit relatively close to a TV or monitor in order to use it for work applications, especially reading. It's not like you can kick back in the hotel bed and start working on the TV that's ten feet away.

Second, especially for the travel scenario, is that now you're relying on wherever you're going to have an HDMI/USB or MHL-enabled port, and that you can get access to it (sorry, people with the TV hanging on the wall), and that you can actually switch to that input (sorry, just about anyone at a hotel). Sure, this works for monitors or for free-standing TV's, but the each one of these scenarios takes chunks out of the use case for devices like this. 

For the third issue, let's say none of the first two problems exist. We have access to the ports, the displays are modern and support everything, and they're touch screen. We plug our device in, start it up, connect to our work desktop and... what? Do we start poking the screen to type on it? I still have the same problems I had using remote desktops on my tablet, except now my arms are sticking out in front of me and they're really, really heavy. Plus, I can't necessarily sit (at least not comfortably) to use the app that I want since I have to touch the screen to use it.

Maybe people aren't working in that scenario. Let's just consume information. I still have to stand there and manipulate the screen to get to what I want. That will lead to HAS: Heavy Arm Syndrome.

To be fair, I talked to people from Dell Wyse, and they said they have concentrated on the form factor to this point and are still working on things like this. For instance, you'll probably be able to use your phone or tablet to interface with the device in the future. The bottom line, though, is that simply owning a device like this doesn't really do anything for you because the use cases are so niche. If I had this, I'd still bring my laptop, tablet, and/or phone, and I'd much rather use any of those to do things than something like this. Anyone with a Google TV knows that Android apps on something other than a mobile touch screen aren't worth using.

Both Brian and I have written about Android thin clients and how they might be awesome. The problem is that was back in 2009. The world has changed, and I'm no longer in that boat. Running Android as a thin client OS makes about as much sense as running Windows on a phone (*cough*), at least as long as you're trying to use the same applications. Plus, even if this comes in under $100 ("sub $100" is what I was told), the experience as a thin client wouldn't hold a candle to Wyse's actual thin clients, and it would be equal to the phone that's already in your pocket.

I'm not sure if Dell Wyse has bigger plans for this than we can anticipate, but I sure hope so. Otherwise this might not get off the ground. While I'm sure some gadget people are in love with the idea, I'm fearful that it's just another device that will get lost in the mess of all the other funky gadgets.

They could be on to something as a portable gaming solution, maybe bundling this with a controller or something, but the fact of the matter is that these exist already too—and as dedicated devices. Wyse also thinks there could be a use case with telcos who could bundle a device like this to customers to help sell internet services. To me that sounds like the WebTV mentality from 1997, at a time when people didn't have internet access everywhere. That hardly seems like a problem today.

So I honestly have no idea what Dell Wyse is going to do with this thing. I can't think of a single use case where this would be the go-to solution for me, and I can't think of any enterprise-wide situations where it would be all that useful either. Perhaps if a company has developed an in-house Android app, this could be used as a deployment platform to give users access to it and to remote Windows applications, but as far as the work and play device, I'm just not seeing it. With a launch sometime in the first half of this year (I'm betting by Synergy), there's still time to see this in a new light, though. We'll see what happens.

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