“Google has jumped aboard the Raspberry Pi badwagon, releasing an operating system called “Coder” designed to get kids into web development.” reported The Register a couple of days ago. I would however argue that this is not a reactionary activity on the part of Google.
It may seem obvious that there are easily over 1 million Raspberry Pi units now shipped – giving it enough scale to be a device Google partners fully with. Google has already had involvement in the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s educational activities – donating 15,000 units to schools in early 2013. But I think this is a move that would go much further in extending Google’s dominance of both our first and increasingly important second screen.
So, let’s ask why now?
Everything in business, especially in the technology world is about the right timing. And that this development comes now is very interesting. Earlier this week, Facebook released its white paper ‘Focusing on efficiency (PDF)‘ for Internet.org on its mission to get access to connectivity as a basic right. This is part of the battle Google and Facebook have been engaged with in the emerging markets. Internet.org is one part to it, with Facebook Zero – is an USSD based lightweight version of the mobile site (0.facebook.com) is another one, gaining vast amounts of adoption. Google has also has a competitive offering – ‘Free Zone’ – product that allows users to access Google+, Gmail, and Google Search on their mobile phone without incurring data charges.
The growth of the next billion Internet users, the opening up of new business opportunities, improved analytics snapshots of developing areas, a likely increase in the value of stock prices and immense international political power.
India and China are too easy as examples, with the average bandwidth and data charges being competitive to those in the western world, but let’s consider Philippines. Google chose to launch Free Zone in Philippines as it offers a huge population of mobile users with basic internet-enabled devices and data is expensive. But along with data charges, the average cost of popular feature phone (a slightly stripped back version of the smartphone) is around 4,4500 Pesos. The Raspberry Pi in comparison is a 2,078 Pesos device and comes with much better potential to convert into a media streaming device, an ethernet ready networked device and can possibly be brought to great uses significantly reducing costs and improving the ability to dominate on the web and second screen devices! I personally think that yes it may not be just this year that Google and Raspberry Pi see an explosion in Philippines, but the next big demand for the Raspberry Pi is from these emerging countries, where it offers an easy way to connect to the web whilst keeping the costs as low as possible.
See here the key drivers of smartphone usage in emerging ICT countries from the Facebook internet.org white paper: Google’s and Facebook’s have the same mission in sight. Cheaper access to devices that help people fulfil the same activities would be beneficial. Enter our high growth unit – Raspberry Pi.
Whilst Facebook is partnered and battling at various level with Google on this, it is much more vocal about the much grander goal, whereas Google has gone and taken an active bite (oh, please excuse the pun!) of the action. This is why Google remains the darling favourite of the tech world. Where it has been not making as much ground as Facebook Zero in the past 12 months, it will certainly see much wider engagement through the Raspberry Pi. Dear Facebook, please take note.
There are two other winners of this development: unsurprisingly the Raspberry Pi itself and Broadcom: who can gain a little further ground in closing the gap with Qualcomm.
What do you think? Is this a simple reaction for Google to get involved in the Raspberry Pi as an afterthought or a carefully placed feature in its strategy hat?