Tuesday, 23 April 2013

MiiPC Android Family Computer

MiiPC is an interesting new family PC that runs Android. It's currently a Kickstarter project that runs until May 9th 2013 and it met its target very quickly. I signed up for a MiiPC right at the beginning of the campaign.

The MiiPC is a small low cost box that runs a family-friendly version of Android. You plug your own monitor, keyboard, mouse and other peripherals into it.

So firstly, why does Android make sense for a family PC? At the moment my kids have access to a machine that runs Windows, but 95% of what they do could easily be done from Android and we could probably find good alternatives for most of the rest. Admittedly it's always that last 1% that's the problem. But we'll probably keep a Windows machine anyway. The kids use Windows at school and there are always things that are Windows-only such as drivers for USB devices, especially in the early days.

The kids also have access to Android tablets (we have a Kindle Fire and a Google Nexus) and these are great but can be too small for a lot of applications like reading web comics and watching YouTube together - which they do a lot! A desktop machine that runs Android makes a lot of sense to us. Our Kindle Fire HD has HDMI output so we do sometimes use it as more of a desktop - sometimes with our cool HDMI projector for a really big screen!

MiiPC has support for parental controls and multiple users and this is something that's very useful. Having multiple profiles means that everyone in the family can easily find their apps and shared devices don't get cluttered up with everyone's stuff. And having parental control over who gets which app is also useful.

The MiiPC also allows parents to remotely see what their kids are currently doing. This is handy for answering questions and helping out as well as checking up on them. And you get monitoring of kids activities too. There's also support for controling how long each user gets to use the device for.

There's a lot to like about the MiiPC.

A possible alternative would be a cheap Android stick, but that misses the parental controls part and the ability to plug in peripherals to the MiiPC itself.

The ability to reuse existing peripherals and upgrade them individually makes financial sense. Of course most Android apps are designed for touch and many families will not yet have a touchscreen monitor moreover a spare one. The MiiPC has been designed to work well with mouse and keyboard inputs so you should be able to get a long way with a non-touchscreen monitor if you're not ready to buy one yet. We have spare peripherals around the house that could be used with our MiiPC.

MiiPC also supports the new Miracast streaming standard. This will allow wireless streaming of content from the MiiPC to compatible screens and displays around your home (and those with a Miracast adapter.) This is a nice feature - we like anything that reduces the number of cables we need.

Currently we've got an All in One family PC with a touchscreen. Mostly because the kids were so used to tablets and smartphones that they kept jabbing at my laptop screen. Unfortunately it doesn't have a video input and I don't see a way to allow the touch screen to control Android. We will want to have touch screen input to the MiiPC.

Will the MiiPC work with touchscreen monitors? Well we hope so given that Android is such a touch-friendly OS. The monitor needs to act as an input to the MiiPC as well as an output for this to work. We don't yet have information on specific touch screen monitors that will work with the MiiPC.

Maybe MiiPC will support the Real Motion gesture controller in future. It would be very cool to have gesture control support.

I'd also like to see a MiiPC big family tablet. Increasingly, what we want is a big tablet that we can use in various locations around the house. In our house tech usage often involves more that one person and a small tablet isn't ideal for this.

Perhaps in future there will be a MiiPC service that can run on any Android device.

The Kickstarter project is still running until May 9th 2013 so there's still chance to get in early.

The MiiPC team have been listening to requested and considering requests to add to the spec - they have added a built in microphone which is convenient.

I think this little device has a lot of potential both for what it will be able to do on day 1 and future directions that MiiPC could take.

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