This year you will be able to buy a fully functioning computer, capable of streaming HD video and running Microsoft Office, for $35
The Raspberry Pi foundation made waves a couple of years ago by announcing they had succeeded in developing a bare-bones but fully-functioning computer for approximately £23. Initially they imagined it would be an affordable way to give people a computer they could use to tinker with, learn to code (they imagined schools low on budget being able to buy numerous units so individual students could learn) or for hobbyists.
They didn’t really expect it go mainstream. After all, it was essentially just a motherboard with a basic processor and didn’t even come with any case to hide the circuits! And the operating system it came with was LINUX, which is popular amongst tech developers but a bit scary for many mainstream people.
But it found a passionate following. News spread of people using it for all sorts of useful applications, from controlling slow-exposure cameras to flying home-made drones.
In fact, the foundation recently admitted they’re selling about 200,000 units a month, with over 4.5 million sold so far. That means it will soon become the most-sold British computer of all time.
But this week, the foundation just announced the release of their next version, the Raspberry Pi 2. It has an upgraded processor which will be about 6x as powerful, 4x USB slots for keyboards, mice and other peripherals, and HDMI output to connect to displays.
It will be powerful enough to stream HD video.
It will be powerful enough to run Windows 10 when it’s released (which Microsoft announced would be free for the device).
And it will still cost $35.
Take a minute to think about that. This year, you’ll be able to get a functioning PC for $35
Now, as the image above shows, it’s hardly a pretty device. And for your $35, you only get the circuit board. In order for it to do anything, you’d need to buy a Micro SD card to load the Operating System.
A working PC for less than $50???
So I did a quick search on ebay to find all of the other things you’d need to create a fully-functioning computer:
- Used HMDI TV / Monitor for video and audio: £0.99 (seriously), or use your own TV: Free
- HMDI cable: £0.99
- 3.5mm audio cable: £0.01
- Used Keyboard and Mouse: £0.99
- Used 32Gb USB flash drive for storage: £0.99
- Ethernet cable to connect to modem: £0.99
- Micro SD Card: £1
- Used mobile phone charger power supply: £0.99
All in all, you could have a functioning PC to surf the web, stream video, play simple games and work on spreadsheets, all for under $50.
Is this going to disrupt companies like Apple or Dell? Not immediately, but perhaps over time as mobile phones and tablets take over more of our entertainment and communications work. There may be a large market for people who see a desktop computer as a device to mainly do productivity work, like writing or Excel, and a low-powered machine like this could easily provide that value.
But there’s two ways in which a device like this is really going to have an impact on innovation over the next 5 years:
1. Educating the next generation of Engineers and Designers
In developed countries, I believe the biggest impact of these sorts of cheap PCs is going to be in getting more people to learn engineering skills. Both software (being able to code) and electronic (building machines).
The reason for this is that a device like this is finally cheap enough for people to be able to try to create things with a higher risk of failure. You could give every child in a school one (or more) of these devices, which they could learn to code on without the fear of destroying what’s on the computer.
It gives children the permission to make mistakes. And that’s the most effective way to not just learn, but to really experiment.
I remember back in the 1990’s when we got our first family PC, I wanted to find out how everything worked. Once I freaked out because I’d adjusted the screen resolution higher than the CRT monitor could handle and everything became a blinking, unusable mess (god bless Windows 95). And my parents were a bit concerned when they see me take the whole thing apart with a screwdriver to try and replace a graphics card (which also didn’t work…).
Nowadays, the majority of computers used are either laptops, tablets or smartphones, which are nearly impossible to safely take apart to see how the insides work.
But if I could give a child a computer which was so cheap that I didn’t worry if it got destroyed, then guess what I’d be able to tell them:
Go ahead. Try things out. Make something new. Use your imagination. It’s ok if something goes wrong.
Children with that sort of mindset are more likely to grow up thinking that new ideas are valuable and that innovating is a worthwhile ambition, as well as having developed the skills to actually create new innovations.
People are already using the Pi to make some amazing robotic devices as well. So if a child could be encouraged to develop those sorts of engineering skills at a younger age, it might encourage them to consider taking more STEM subjects or maybe even make a career out of them. This could be a great way to encourage more girls to enter STEM roles, something the world desperately needs.
2. Getting the developing world online
A Raspberry Pi 2 would also make getting a computer much more realistic for those people to whom money really is an issue: people who live in the developing world.
This is also part of a growing trend, which is companies investing in ways to get people access to the internet who previously couldn’t afford it.
For example, if you think the Pi 2 is cheap, then prepare to be amazed by the mobile phone which Microsoft recently released.
It’s called the Nokia 215, can access the internet (albeit over the slower cellular networks) and has dedicated apps for Facebook.
And it costs $29.
Yes, this is probably the cheapest new device you can buy that will get you on the internet (if you know of anything cheaper, let me know in the comments).
Other companies like Facebook and Google also have philanthropic arms which are working on getting access to the internet to areas of the world it currently can’t reach, such as parts of India, North Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Ultimately, these aims make great business sense. As more people escape poverty and are able to get online, companies want them being able to use their systems so that they can make a profit from them down the line.
Those people who come online will also find new ways to innovate, either through shared knowledge or starting their own companies to stimulate the economies further.
And it could all begin with a cheap, small circuit board from the UK.
Would you let your children loose on a cheap computer like this? Do you think it has enough power to replace your desktop? Let me know in the comments below.
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