Low-cost computing for the developing world is fast becoming a holy grail, but I don’t think we’ve discovered the answer yet. The latest device to join this race is a $25 PC, but can it succeed where others have failed?
The British-born Raspberry Pi’s vision is undoubtedly worthy.
This registered charity says it aims to ‘put the fun back into learning computing’ by developing an ultra-low-cost PC for teaching computer programming to children.
How much power does $25 buy?
Predicted to cost just $25 (£15) you can’t knock the price, a fraction of the cost of the XO computers developed by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. But what does $25 actually buy you?
Looks-wise the computer is unlike any I’ve seen – it’s the size of a USB stick and resembles something my step-father, an ex physics teacher, might have soldered together in his Lab.
It includes a 700MHz ARM processor, 128MB of SDRAM and an integrated memory card slot. There’s no monitor – instead it’s designed to be plugged into a TV, any other monitor or even a ‘low cost tablet’.
An uphill struggle to success
It’s a great and worthy concept, but based on the details released so far I honestly can’t see it being any more successful than the OLPC project.
And at least OLPC’s device looks like a laptop, featuring a keyboard and built-in screen, albeit with a strange green antenna. Sure, it can’t rival other laptops for portable power, but it’s cheap and schools, and kids, love ‘em.
Yet, sales have been lacklustre, with the organisation shipping 370,000 computers back in 2008, way short of its 150 million target. It’s not clear that Raspberry Pi’s bare bones offering will do any better.
Simplicity is the key to success
It is early days for Raspberry Pi, which won’t start selling its device until a year from now. My suggestion would be that the charity uses this time to simplify its offering.
It’s great that Raspberry Pi is providing those in the developing world an in-road to technology, but expecting customers to pay for a separate screen seems a little short-sighted. Fact is, it isn’t a complete system and is therefore, in my view, flawed.
I can’t help wondering whether Raspberry Pi is hung up on its $25 price tag, when spending a few dollars more might deliver something with a greater chance of success.