Computers are too expensive. That may seem an odd observation coming from one who has been using Apple hardware almost exclusively for a quarter-century, but value and price aren’t exactly the same thing (although they’re related). Apple stuff is seductive because it looks good, feels good, is better than good quality-wise (most of the time), and is easy to get along with. All that pertains to value. However, not everyone can afford Apple hardware, and the volume of lower-priced Android, Windows PC, Chrome, and (for the geekier-minded) Linux hardware that’s sold attests to an eager market based more on price.
Developers of the C.H.I.P. nine-dollar computer—which has roughly the footprint of a credit card (2.3 inches by 1.5 inches)—told CTV news Monday that thanks to having raised $1.4 million through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, they can begin shipping the device in December.
That level of crowdfunding success implies that there’s popular interest out there in low-priced computing. CHIP runs the Open Source Linux OS, and is powered by a 1GHz Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor with Mali-400 graphics, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, a real USB port, and a multiuse component port.
There are other minimalist computers, such as the also roughly credit-card sized and considerably geekier $35.00 Raspberry Pi.
Intel is marketing the Intel Compute Stick, a new pocket-sized computer in a USB stick drive form factor based on a quad-core Intel Atom processor and running Windows 8.1 with Bing, at around $149.00 with Windows, and to be available later this year in an Ubuntu 14.04 Linux version expected to retail for $110.
And, of course, there are the ChromeBooks—full-sized laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS and a slate of online Google apps—with an astonishing variety of machines available from several manufacturers starting at about $150 on up.
However, nine bucks for a computer is a new dimension in low-ball pricing. This week, Raspberry Pi responded by dropping the price of its Model B+ to $25 and the bare-bones Model A+ to $20, while the top-of-the-range Raspberry Pi 2 remains at $35.
And of course, nine bucks for the CHIP basic module doesn’t quite get you computing. You’ll need some sort of monitor and adapter, a storage drive of some sort, a battery, keyboard, and mouse, which will be more like $50 to $150 depending on how well you buy stuff.
Or you can get PocketC.H.I.P., which makes CHIP portable with. a 4.3 touchscreen, a QWERTY keyboard, and a 5-hour 3.7v LiPo battery to C.H.I.P. and you’re ready to go mobile—in a case small enough to fit in your back pocket.
Nevertheless, CHIP is a real computer for a very low investment that—like the Intel Computestick—does real computer things. With 1Ghz and with 512MB of DDR3 RAM, CHIP is powerful enough to run real software and handle the demands of a full GUI and attached hardware. Work in the LibreOffice productivity suite and save your documents to CHIP’s onboard storage. Surf the web and check your email over WiFi. Play games with a Bluetooth controller. With dozens of applications and tools preinstalled, the CHIP folks say their computer is for students, teachers, grandparents, children, artists, makers, hackers, and inventors, and is ready to do computer things the moment you power it on.
It will be interesting to see how well CHIP fulfils its conceptual promise in the marketplace. Making the leap to mass market success would involve being able to sell a “turnkey” package attractive to non geeks while still staying in the minimal investment arena, and there’s already som powerful competition out there that will get you computing for not very much money.
For more information, visit www.kickstarter.com.