Raspberry Pi Foundation: 5 devices in less than a year. What’s next?
In less than a year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has released a whole series of new products. Four gadgets were released in 2020 and one in 2021. All this – despite the logistics problems due to the pandemic. The success is due in part to the growth in demand for PCs, including miniature systems, following the massive shift to telecommuting.
The company tried to satisfy the demand: first it released a good camera, in April 2020, a month later – a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8 GB of RAM. Then came the Compute Module 4, the Raspberry Pi 400 and, more recently, the $ 4 Raspberry Pi Pico. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected operational efficiency and supply chain. Will the company rest? Unlikely.
“We entered the pandemic with a huge to-do list. Their successful solution, new product launches, allows us to move forward successfully, ”said Eben Upton, creator and co-founder of the Raspberry Pi.
The company really solves very difficult problems – the fact that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has found the necessary resources and forces to implement all of these projects can be called a real achievement. But Raspberry is not going to stop – the company has big plans for this year.
Year of budget PCs
The Raspberry Pi is one of the first companies to face a massive move to remote control. This is because in most families there is only one PC for all in a normal situation. And suddenly, a large number of families had a need to use at least one additional computer, or better – more. After all, family members need to study and work, and all this is done remotely.
The Raspberry team began to understand the severity of the pandemic after they increasingly came across masks, invested as gifts, in packages with components coming from suppliers. All this came from China. Some vendors even began to tell the team that in a few weeks it would face unforeseen difficulties due to the pandemic.
But in any case, many users around the world have appreciated the advantages of a system with a price of less than $ 50, which can be used as a desktop PC. Demand increased sharply, and already in March 2020 the company sold 640,000 devices, which became the second largest month in the company’s history by sales. According to TechRepublic, the total volume of various devices in 2020 exceeded 7.1 million units.
In 2020, there is a new product in the line – the Pi 400. The company took its flagship, the Pi 4, and placed it in the keyboard, resulting in a kind of desktop PC with basic functions. It is mainly intended for families on a tight budget and does not take up a lot of desktop space. The idea of creating such a device did not appear suddenly – the team had been carrying it for more than four years.
The team, by the way, thought the pandemic would end quickly, perhaps even by the time the Pi 400 was released. But as we all know, this turned out to be a mistake. According to sales figures, the company sold between 300,000 and 400,000 of these devices in March. The Raspberry Pi Foundation had no sales problems – rather, problems arose to meet the ever-growing demand.
But everything turned out to be not as difficult as it could have been. The team managed to debug the processes in such a way that almost no team members were required to participate in the production process. It was necessary to support the process, monitor the execution of tasks, but no more. The Pi 400 ran into some difficulty as it required manual assembly of some of the elements. But in the end it worked out.
How the Raspberry Pi helped patients, students, and their parents
The company has also participated in a large number of social and charitable initiatives. In particular, the team provided their devices to students who could not afford to purchase equipment. In February, the Raspberry Pi Foundation donated the 5000th kit as part of the Bloomfield Trust campaign.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation also sold their kits directly to schools, without intermediaries or markups. Moreover, the devices were offered to educational institutions at wholesale prices. The Raspberry Pi, with 2GB of RAM, mouse, keyboard and basic display, is a better choice than budget laptops offered to schoolchildren through government initiatives in the UK, according to company representatives.
“For £ 40, you get something much cooler than the cheapest Chromebook. And inexpensive Chromebooks are rubbish, ”said a company representative.
We are talking about another device from the company – the Pico microcontroller. This is the first such system in the Raspberry Pi product line, as is the first device with its own processor.
Pico is a highly sought after product. In March 2021, the company shipped 200,000 devices for a total of 900,000 orders. Then another 100,000 devices were shipped, but buyers ordered an additional 200,000.
“This is an attempt to fill a bottomless barrel. Some buyers, seeing the $ 4 price tag, probably ordered dozens of microcontrollers, ”Upton said.
The Raspberry Pi Pico is marketed as a learning device, although, of course, DIY enthusiasts are also buying the device in large quantities. In any case, microcontrollers are an entirely new market for the company. This device expands an already voluminous ecosystem of products.
Software is the new focus of the company in 2021
Despite the successes, the company was affected by the impact of the pandemic – the engineers involved in the development of “iron” projects could not visit the office and laboratories. Well, it is impossible to do such work at home.
Upton thinks remote hardware development is a bad idea. Therefore, in 2021, the Raspberry Pi reduced activity in the development of “hardware” and directed additional efforts to software. Does this mean the Raspberry Pi 5 isn’t coming this year? Probably yes, although the company has not yet completely abandoned the idea of releasing a new device.
The Raspberry Pi plans to migrate the platform to Debian 11 by mid-year, which will update many elements of the system, including optimizing the Mesa 3D stack. Upton also hopes to see how the updated Chromium will affect the Raspberry Pi. One of the advantages of Chromium is its multimedia capabilities, including video conferencing, which is extremely important in the current era of remote control.
“We are currently using Chromium 88, so we are at the forefront of modern technology. This is very important because many video conferencing platforms take advantage of the latest browser capabilities. And if we’re talking about the Raspberry Pi being a great platform for working from home, we need to support video conferencing, ”Upton says.
If 2020 was the year of new hardware for the Raspberry Pi, then 2021 could be a year where software development is at the forefront. This requires as much effort as it would during hardware development, since the Raspberry Pi team is simultaneously working with the kernel, with Debian and Chromium.
“So far we have made significant progress in integrating multimedia, in particular, we have added support for Vulkan 1.1. New standards are another direction, ”says Upton.