Could a tablet computer be manufactured in Homewood that would compete with Apple and Samsung? Andrew Thornhill seems to think so, and gave several residents at the Homewood Library an overview of his 29 Tablets idea and asked for input.

Thornhill, a Seattle-based digital media consultant and Homewood native, said even though details of the initiative won’t be assembled for a year, he wanted to get the community’s sense of involvement and direction.

He put the 29 Tablets Symposium together with old friends Kevin Amos and Elwin Green of HomewoodNation, who took turns as moderators.

“I’ll be responding to interested parties in San Jose (Calif.) in three weeks,” he said. “And while we’re still seeing about costs of assembling motherboards and circuits here or buying them from Taiwan, the headline will be; ‘I’m gonna kick Apple’s and Samsung’s ass.’”

Though far from the production and assembly stages, Thornhill’s meeting attracted several tech savvy entrepreneurs, instructors and possible local support in the persons of Urban Innovation21 President and CEO Bill Generett, and, attending his first public meeting as mayor, Bill Peduto.  Joining the mayor was his Chief Education and Neighborhood Reinvestment Officer Curtiss Porter. State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, also attended.

Peduto was pleased that his first public meeting was in Homewood.

“And it’s not about a shooting or police relations, it’s about bringing tech manufacturing to Homewood,” he said. “We’re here to say, bring us the dream and we’ll find a way to help. And I really like the idea of not bringing a company, but building local entrepreneurs.”

Generett said the 29 Tablets idea is why he started Urban Innovation21.

“I grew up here, and I started Urban Innovation21 to help entrepreneurial activity like this,” he said.

Thornhill hinted at the possible direction the tablet project might take when responding to questions about competing in the marketplace considering manufacturing costs in Homewood versus China.

“How to be competitive? Attach it to music,” he said. “For one thing, in the tablet world there is no high-quality sound.”

Whatever it becomes, it will have to do more than play back music with exceptional sound. Perhaps it can double as a 16-track recording studio that fits in your pocket. That might justify the $1,500 retail target price he has in mind.

Several in the audience thought the number was unrealistic. How can you get to that price when the priciest tablet, iPad Air, is going for less than $600?

“Will it have 3-D graphics, holograms? I haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “I can’t tell you what components will be made here or how many people we’ll need. I won’t know that for a year.  How many people do you think this should employ? What components and capabilities do you think it should have? Tell me. That’s all part of process over the next year.”

Shimira Williams, chief development officer for Productivity LLC. and instructor for Tekstart, said she was disappointed with the turnout, especially given Thornhill’s expertise in digital marketing and communications.

“You need to do better getting you message to the folks who are still on the wrong side of the digital divide, like our elderly,” she said. “And I really wanted to see young people here.”

Community activist Lucille Prater Holliday agreed.

“There are very few Homewood residents actually here,” she said. “We need to get the word out faster.”

Thornhill said he would do a better job when he returns after speaking with the four companies he said want to invest.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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