This week a non-profit group announced Raspberry Pi, the world’s first powerful $25 computer. The goal is to get low-cost computers into the hands of kids so they can tinker. However, the specs are pretty darn impressive, even to us adults.
But what’s preventing other products from meeting or breaking the $25 barrier? When you look back, there isn’t that much – it is more a matter of faith than economics.
For instance, imagine a $25 video game system, which, in our current economy, will barely buy you a controller. The system itself would probably be a lot smaller, like an Apple TV or Mac Mini, and would come with very few accessories aside from the plug. Perhaps it would incorporate another device, like your TV remote or cell phone, as a controller, kind of like the multitasking remotes you find in airplane seats.
It was probably closer to happening than we imagine. As you may not know or remember, Time Warner was knee deep in video gaming during the Atari 2600 era. It pulled out when the video game market crashed in 1984, but, if it stuck around for the Nintendo-fueled resurgence the following year, console games could have easily been part of the AOL uprising. Imagine not owning the console per se, but paying $25 a month to rent the console and getting a set amount of games or hours of play – like cable. The type of games made and the time we spent playing them would be drastically different, probably closer to the modern Facebook, ad-driven casual games than the multi hour, dense RPGs (Final Fantasy) or action-adventures (Zelda) that would define a whole generation of gamers.
The same $25 concept would radically change reading, too. I’ve argued for years that $99 is the threshold for people finally buying more digital books than traditional books. We’ve got nearly all the e-readers near or beating that price, but can you imagine a $25 quality e-reader? It would be cheaper than the average hardcover (about $35 now) and even close to paperback prices (about $20). Schools could afford to pass these readers out like worn-out copies of The Adventures of Huck Finn – except whole catalogs of books would be in this wafer-thin tablet.
Frankly, I’m shocked there isn’t a book rental service, kind of like the cable concept, that gives you a cheap tablet and all you can eat or even a limited amount of books for a flat monthly fee. For consumers, it still would be cheaper than buying and maintaining a book collection.
What other tech products would be totally changed with a lower price point? It will be interesting to see how Raspberry Pi opens up the possibilities.