With around 750,000 units sold following its launch last February, it is fair to say the Raspberry Pi was one of the most unlikely computing sensations of 2012. Developed to help young people learn programming skills, the credit-card-sized device found a huge swathe of followers among those with an interest in coding.
The Pi’s small, low-cost nature means it is the ideal choice for a range of homebrew computing projects and its open-source platform extended the possibilities even further, attracting those with a passion for building custom gadgets.
From powering a camera capable of taking photos from the edge of space, to providing the basis of a voice control unit for a robotic arm, the Pi has been used for a huge range of projects. With so much innovation going on, it makes sense to have a place people can share and even sell their work, which is why, as 2012 drew to a close, the Raspberry Pi Foundation launched an app store.
The store isn’t exactly going to get Apple and Android aficionados’ mouths watering – right now it has just 35 apps – but it is the potential the store has which makes it so exciting. Of course, the Raspberry Pi is never going to challenge the smartphone market, that’s not the point of it. The device was created to foster innovation and the store will help people showcase their ideas as well as finding fresh inspiration – exactly what the programming world needs.
Anyone old enough to remember the first affordable home computers of the late 70s and 80s will know that one of their attractions was the ease with which programmes could be written and run. Many classic games from that period, perhaps most notably Manic Miner, were created by bedroom coders and it is that kind of creativity the Pi Store is looking to inspire. True, it is highly unlikely the Pi will ever play host to a smash hit game to rank alongside the Call of Duty series, but it could well prove to be the breeding ground for a future generation of software superstars.
The store hasn’t been without its critics; some fans of the Pi feel the venture is against the open-source principles of the device and believe charging for apps created on it will damage the community spirit that has grown up around the computer. But Raspberry Pi Foundation executive director Ebden Upton strongly disagrees and says the chance to monitise their skills straight away rather than in ten or 15 years’ time will incentivise youngsters to stick with coding, just as it did in the 1980s.
DIY computing isn’t for everyone, but history has shown young people are keen to get programming – they just need an affordable way of doing so. As technology has become more advanced, learning the basics of computing has become increasingly hard and anything which makes it easier to get coding should be applauded. In fact, it’s hard to think of an element of the online world where a job hunter, no matter their age, would not benefit from coding skills. You might not find yourself building apps from scratch if you work in online marketing, but understanding how to do so could be the factor which sets you apart from the crowd when applying for a new position.
DIY computing won’t gain traction across all demographics – it didn’t 30 years ago and it won’t this time around – but the fact the Raspberry Pi has proved so popular with those who grew up using the early microcomputers shows that once you’ve got a passion for coding, it won’t leave you. So we probably can’t call 2013 the year of DIY computing – it’s just not mainstream enough a field to gain that kind of attention – but we can say, for the first time in a long time, it’s a sector that’s doing something exciting, and that’s what matters.
Written by Will Stevens, part of the Webfusion blog team. The Raspberry Pi Foundation uses Webfusion servers.