A system suitable for embedded, educational and R&D applications has been developed based on ARM and minimal hardware (no PSU) for $15, about the price of a box of copy-paper. The idea is to have a complete stack from circuit-board layout, CPU and OS completely open and produced by cooperation with Free Software proponents and Chinese hardware design and production.
Clearly, this is at or near the theoretical minimum cost so we finally see where Moore’s Law and Free Software can take us. Already some smartphones and tablets are available around ~$100, so we are “there”, at the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold, what the material costs and a bit of labour and shipping.
This means an end to many limitations of IT:
- the Digital Divide between rich and poor is getting narrow enough anyone who wants to can leap over,
- within a few years no region of Earth or activity of humans need be devoid of IT because of costs,
- Wintel need not apply, and
- the number of intelligent devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, netbooks will explode.
With costs of material so low and with cost of entry into industry so low, we are entering an era of enhanced innovation with the only limitation left being imagination. I can see education where costs of Wintel have widely prevented environments with 1:1 student:computer ratio, government, business and individuals sooner or later using IT everywhere daily. The technology is just too inexpensive and too productive not to use it.
Bringing a product to market for end-users is just a few months away using this technology. China already has broadly used technology developed by government for the package, keyboard and display so new products using such low-cost inputs is inevitable and sure to have a market in wide emerging markets for IT and in niches in well-developed markets. Everything from toasters to desktop PCs are within reach. Even with Wintel costing $100+ we saw netbooks at $200 so the era of complete systems costing $100 or a bit less are upon us. No ultrabooks or market distortions by M$ and Intel are going to derail this juggernaut. In 2012, small cheap computers are going to kick ass everywhere but high-performance computing and servers.
There are still bottle-necks in prices such as plastic, displays, storage and memories but they seem to be relaxing, too. The old technology was so bloated, the new technology may be able to live off discarded material. The CPU and software are no problem at all. Here’s what was on the market last year. Here’s a video of it running: