The Raspberry Pi computer
The Raspberry Pi is going to change the world, says the influential Silicon Valley blog Business Insider. Even if you think that’s Valley hype, and I do, there’s a very strong chance that it could revolutionise the way we teach children computing.
I’m a big fan of the Raspberry Pi – a very basic £15 computer designed to let your children play around writing code somewhere other than the family PC. I blogged about it
when the first (alpha) release came out in September, so I am thrilled that the day is nearly here when the producers start shipping the finished article.
Business Insider has celebrated the arrival to market of the Pi in their typically breathless prose. But I agree that there is real reason for excitement, real reason to believe that this is a game-changer:
- It’s not about the money, money, money: The Raspberry Pi Foundation is and will remain a not-for-profit organisation. The Foundation wants to open-source the technology so other producers can start developing Raspberry Pi devices for schools (and other bodies) in developing world countries
- We just wanna make the world programme: The Raspberry Pi been built with one aim in mind – to give children a platform on which to learn how to programme computers rather than merely to use websites or office programmes.
- Don’t forget about the price tag: At £15 it’s acessible to schools and colleges across the world. But for that price you get a multimedia performance “substantially better” than the Tegra 3, a chip used in many modern smartphones, says Business Insider
Eben Upton, the Cambridge engineer who’s masterminded the Raspberry Pi, says that the first batch of 10,000 units will be available for sale within the next few weeks, following a successful test over Christmas. And that’s how they’ll continue to produce them, in batches of 10,000 units once or twice a month. I am cerainly going to be looking to buy one as soon as I can to teach my own son some of the rudiments of programming. And then I can see for myself whether this little device really could be a world-changer.
The death of the QWERTY keyboard seems like a rash prediction. After all it must go down as one of the most successful open standards in history: A Victorian invention that remains the dominant interface for human-computer interaction across the world. But for how much longer? Voice-control and gesture/touch-control have made huge steps forward in the last month alone. And with personal computing being about so much more than the PC or Mac desktop in the next decade, I’m going to stick my neck out (gesture) and quietly suggest (voice) that QWERTY may go the way of the floppy disk, even if it takes a few years.
Apple are betting on voice. Siri, the voice-controlled assistant that comes with the new iPhone 4S, provides a voice-controlled interface for all the apps on your phone. As such, Siri is not itself an app but more fundamental than that – a way of controlling the computer that your smart phone has become. Amazon has gone the same way – it was revealed this week that they’ve quietly acquired speech-recognition start-up Yap to build into the Kindle Fire tablet with which they’re going to compete with the iPad.
Microsoft in the meantime are focusing more on gestures and touch. Their future vision video, just released, builds on their Kinect gesture tracking, which has already revolutionised console-game playing in the home and is now being used as the interface for a far greater range of programmes and apps.
Of course we’re not going to change tomorrow. I am writing this on a QWERTY keyboard. My children are learning touch-typing at school. I wish I had learned such a basic skill at an early age. But I am not sure I am so worried about my children learning it. Had I learned it when I was young, I would have saved myself a huge amount of time in my early days as a journalist. But will QWERTY really be the dominant interface for my children to create the written word? In a computing world increasingly dominated by tablets, smartphones and computing embedded in other devices, and looking at the developments in the last month alone in natural user interfaces, increasingly I doubt it.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
The text is from the 1998 “Think Different” Apple ad that marked the beginning of Apple’s re-emergence as a technical giant thanks to the return of Steve Jobs. I don’t think it’s possible to over-estimate Steve Jobs’ impact on the worlds of technology and business. Not just in what he did, but in the way that what he did inspired or enabled so many others to make great things in whatever they did. The human body is fragile but the human spirit can, occasionally, soar to dizzying heights. RIP Steve Jobs.