Raspberry Pi has been the most publically prominent player in the SBC (single-board computer) market. But as the Raspberry Pi Foundation sets its sights on new goals, is it giving up some space to new competitors?
Raspberry Pi's Shift towards Software
Raspberry Pi changed the world back in 2012 when they released their first generation of credit-card-sized SBCs. The company knew they hit something huge when they sold over 100,000 units within the first 24 hours of being released.
The focus of the board was to promote the basics of computer science in schools to get children interested in computing. Five years later, Raspberry Pi has sold more than 10 million units of their five different microcomputers. Just recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Raspberry Pi Zero W (which includes onboard wireless capabilities). In an interview with Wired, Raspberry Pi Foundation founder Eben Upton has made it clear that he plans on focusing on the development of the software that the Pi devices can be run on. Essentially, Upton is gearing towards software as it's what he assumes a majority of users want.
In late September of 2016, Raspberry Pi introduced a brand new desktop for their devices named PIXEL (which stands for 'Pi Improved Xwindow Environment, Lightweight'). This is a huge software update to the Pi's desktop environment. PIXEL includes a refined interface, as well as quite a few new programs and features. Oh, did I forget to mention that there are experimental versions of PIXEL for x86 platforms?
Image courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation
But as the Raspberry Pi Foundation perfects its other products and moves in new directions, ASUS is looking to edge into the Raspberry Pi 3's territory.
Room for ASUS to Rise?
ASUS has now stepped in the SBC realm. ASUS's competitor to the Raspberry Pi is called the Tinker Board. For starters, it has a quad-core Rockchip System on Chip (SoC) that's 50% faster than the Broadcom SoC in the Raspberry Pi. It measures at the same 3.4" x 2.1" size as the Pi 3, but it also supports 4K via the HDMI 2.0 port.
Notably, however, these advantages come at a higher price: $60 compared to the $40 Raspberry Pi 3.
The Tinker Board by ASUS. Image courtesy of ASUS
This isn't ASUS's first step in small personal computers. The VivoPC is a mini PC that measures slightly larger than a DVD jewel case. Powered by Intel with 4K/2K visuals, integrated speakers, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, it has all the functionalities of a traditional desktop but is much more versatile. The VivoPC shows that ASUS is experimenting on multiple fronts when it comes to computing hardware.
The VivoPC by ASUS. Image courtesy of ASUS
ASUS isn't going to release its hold on the markets it's known for, but it also seems to be expanding its purview towards who they clearly think of as "tinkerers".
With the Tinker Board, ASUS might be trying to get a piece of the Maker Movement, which is comprised of inventors, designers, and tinkerers that are all working on the latest hardware to advance technology. This movement, according to USA Today, is a $29 billion community as of 2014.
At maker faires (events focused on usually DIY robotics, crafts, gadgets, contraptions, and even legos) this year, ASUS provided their Labs DIY, where they shared their knowledge and expertise for people of all ages to create a PC. With exposing their name and providing great experiences for consumers, ASUS is slowly making a name for themselves in the vast Makers Market.
So how will this new interest in the maker community affect professional engineers? We've seen that hardware designed for tinkerers can actually be very useful to practicing designers, especially in prototyping. Perhaps this shift is one of the best industry moves EEs could ask for.