Which is the bestselling computer to have been produced in the UK? You might be surprised to know that it’s a wonderfully versatile device of relatively recent origin: the Raspberry Pi. Despite (or perhaps largely due to) being the size of a credit card, the Pi has gone from strength to strength since 2012.
That’s the year when the first Raspberry Pi unit was shipped. To date, more than 40 million Raspberry Pis have subsequently been sold worldwide, according to the University of Cambridge. So, why was this miniature computer originally created, and how has it thrived?
The genesis of the Raspberry Pi
The Pi is the brainchild of Eben Upton, who cofounded the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the Cambridge-based charity responsible for making and selling Pi units. “Given how far we’ve come, it’s sort of funny to remember how parochial our ambitions were at the start,” Upton recently recalled.
Upton became a Director of Studies at the University of Cambridge’s St John’s College after completing a PhD at the University’s Department of Computer Science and Technology in 2006. However, around this time, the number of applicants for computer science courses here had hugely declined.
He notes: “There was a feeling that if we could get a programme or piece of hardware into the hands of young people at the right point in their lives, we might be able to do something to reverse that decline.”
How the Raspberry Pi’s versatility has kept it relevant
In a separate interview with Elektor, Upton observes that, in its first year of release, the Pi “wasn’t really used by students” but did find favour with “adults, people like us, people who already have skills in this area.” The Pi also saw broad industrial adoption from 2014 onwards.
The Foundation launched the Raspberry Pi Pico after realising that the original Pi was “a bit too powerful for beginners in education, providing too much flexibility”. Upton points out: “The Pico is very simple. You plug it into your PC and it has an LED that you can flash.”
Today, people completely new to the Raspberry Pi can still pick up a Pico from a specialist retailer like The Pi Hut. However, various other Pi models also abound — including the Pi 400, essentially a complete PC built into a compact keyboard, making this Pi particularly suitable for novice programmers.
How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the Pi game
The Foundation manufactures its Pi units in the UK and sells over seven million of these devices annually. As one of the main selling points of the Pi is its relatively low cost, it shouldn’t be hugely surprising that sales rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many coders would have had more time on their hands.
Of Raspberry Pi models sold new, the cheapest is the Pi Zero, while the Foundation’s main product is the Pi 4B, according to Business Matters. It certainly looks very plausible that the range of Pi models on the market could grow yet further over the coming years.