Raspberry Pi Zero: A Bit of History

(The first part of a mini-series about the Raspberry Pi Zero).

We all loved the original Raspberry Pi premise; a small and modest yet very affordable and versatile single-board hobby computer that brought computing projects into homes and classrooms alike. They were not the first or the only one on that market, but they hit a sweet spot in terms of value for money and community building that resulted in an unprecedented buzz.

The year 2015 was very exciting for RPi enthusiasts, since it brought us two quite different new concepts. Early in the year we saw the Pi 2, that blew us away because of its double memory and brand new quadruple processor that enabled all kinds of new performance-hungry projects. But that same year in November, we were hit with the Pi Zero; the lean mean mini Pi. The Zero used the now-familiar first generation processor, but it was on a much smaller circuit board, and was stripped from almost all peripherals to save cost, physical presence and power consumption. This unit had mobile/embedded written all over it.

Because of my bias towards mobile/embedded projects (governed by much different constraints than raw performance), I was thrilled by the theoretical possibilities after the announcement of the Pi Zero. There was only one slight problem: unless you were one of the lucky sods who managed to pick up a copy of MagPi magazine #40 that included the new gadget as a free throw, it was impossible to obtain. The initial stock of 20,000 sold out within hours, and the little follow-ups they produced never reached the general public. In the weeks that followed, my initial enthusiasm turned sour. Theoretical computers don’t work very well in practice, and I stopped dreaming about what projects I would make with this little board.

In retrospect, the lack of production of Zeroes could easily be explained by all the work that must have gone into preparing the launch of the even beefier Pi 3 that was announced on the Foundation’s 4th birthday*. At least this one was available immediately and sufficiently, so I got one of those to complement my B+ that was now semi-permanently embedded in a certain DIY robot project.

And then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, when I had nearly completely banished the Pi Zero from my mind, a little news line caught my eye: “Zero grows a camera connector”. And there it was, the Pi Zero 1.3, with newly added CSI port that allowed hooking up the Pi Cam, including a nice feature about a high-altitude ballooning project. But the best part was, the end of the article provides links to two stores that are actually selling the device in the EU!

For my first shopping attempt I was so busy drooling over it and browsing the optional accessories that the remaining stock was actually sold out by the time I was ready to close the deal. I sighed, entered my email to be notified about new stock, and waited impatiently for next week’s supplies. Even though the item is currently limited to 1 per customer, I cleverly circumvented this by ordering one from each store. They could actually land in the mail any day now! When Mythos turns into reality!!

*The real reasons for the delay in production of the Zero might actually be different, as it is apparently produced differently than the “regular” RPi’s… there is some talk about it from Mr. Raspberry himself in this article that I completely missed at the time.

3 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Zero: A Bit of History

    • Interesting point indeed! This calls for some investigative journalism:

      Fact #1: In an interview with the sanctioned magazine of The Foundation that was published somewhere between February 29 and March 3, we find a direct quote from Mr. Upton claiming that “This isn’t quite the same as the other Pis, because the other Pis are made by RS and Farnell. We make these Pis, so you’re actually looking at a small company trying to scale.”

      Fact #2: In the official blog of The foundation, we find a post from May 16 that is either from Mr. Upton or from his sanctioned shadow publicist, claiming that “the Zero had to compete for factory space with Raspberry Pi 3”.

      What is going on here? Was Mr. Upton suffering from a mild form of amnesia, or is someone trying to give a twist to reality? With regards to Fact #1, I personally find it severely unlikely that the highly esteemed magazine would publish anything else than utter truth, especially when it comes to claiming a direct quote from the Big Cheese himself. If I can accept that as a given, that leaves two possibilities for Fact #2 that was published about 10 weeks later:

      1. Mr. Upton was personally logged in to his own account, and didn’t think much of giving correct accounts of recent history (this does however strike me as unlikely as well).
      2. Someone else was blogging under his name, who didn’t actually know all those managerial details and didn’t bother to ask around, and they just made the same assumption that I made when the Pi 3 was announced in February…

      • I’d put it down to spinning, since if you read the two statements carefully, they don’t actually contradict on another.

        1. The 3 and Zero were competing for production capacity
        If (part of) the reason not to use their usual manufacturers, that could be formulated as competing for production capacity
        2. The Zeros are made by the RPF themselves
        He does not state anything about why this is the case or that anything about competition between the two devices, just that it’s different
        3. They were looking to scale up the production.
        There’s no mention of how they plan to do this. This may even include using their usual manufacturers after all

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