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My phone should be doing all of this by now. Technically it's more powerful then the pi (and has a better case then this), just not as good from a usability/hack-ability standpoint.

I wonder what's stopping someone from producing an all in one device: Desktop/phone/hobbyist micro-controller

Startup idea?




> Startup idea?

I tried this. The problem is the HUGE amount of cash you have to put up up-front to just get devboards and datasheets. Also, while BT/WiFi licensing is pretty straight-forward, GSM licensing is not - and don't forget the licensing costs for the chips...

Furthermore, the more functionality you want to embed on your board (I intended on a ethernet+poe and a powerline/power supply board, linked via MII to the CPU), the more layers you will need on the board.

And RF engineering competence is a must both for functionality and for EM radiation compliance, and this is not cheap too.

Altogether a too small market.


When we were running Miniand it was one of our big goals to assist hardware startups interact with factories in south China; we lived in Guangzhou back then and had constant interaction with manufacturers. We successfully manufactured our own dev board (based on an existing board with modifications) but in the end we just didn't make enough money to make it viable for us.

Chinese manufacturers do tend to have room to move on samples and MOQs, I think it's really important for someone considering attempting hardware on the smaller scale have someone in China assist with interacting with the manufacturers. A big issue is the large amount of miscommunication which always seem to happen when western companies try to deal with manufacturers directly.


The real startup idea is "Rent-a-Chinese" (sorry if it sounds racist, it's not intended as such).

Like, a preferably low-cost / revenue-split consulting company for nonprofits and startups which gets the customers in contact with the Chinese HW/SW vendors and provides engineering (gongkai ecosystem) and especially cultural advice (translations!).


This would be exceptional if it could be done on a modest hobbyist's budget


Ah so that's what happened to Miniand. The forums were very useful for discussing the devices and finding custom images. Good luck in your next endeavor!


What about a thick, 7 or 6 inch laptop with a foldable keyboard ? No GSM, just wifi and USB ? Many programmers would like one.


How would that even look like? Like an MS Surface? What do you mean by "foldable keyboard"?


a laptop, essentially. I don't like the surface because you can remove the keyboard, it feels fragile.

Also I'd prefer something much thicker to have more battery and a more powerful CPU. Thicker means easier to dissipate heat since air can circulate more.


I think Surface can mount up to Core i7 processors ?

Something much thicker would kind of defeat the purpose of being portable.

I believe what we have today is limited more by physical constraints (i.e. I can´t see myself writing code on a 7/8 screen, or typing comfortably on a keyboard that small) than actual technology.

Already, both on the Surface or a small footprint laptop (say, 11' Macbook Air), for me the experience is way worse than what you can get on a slightly larger laptop (13').


> Something much thicker would kind of defeat the purpose of being portable.

Batteries always takes room. I'd prefer a thicker laptop with more autonomy. I dont understand thinner laptops, especially plastic ones, since plastic doesnt seem to disperse heat very well.


> GSM licensing is not

Couldn't you use GSM modules [1] in your product right-away?

[1]: http://www.u-blox.com/en/wireless-modules/umtshsdpa-modules/...


you are right - this is more of an idea that someone like Dell / Samsung / HTC could test in a small beta market and push if they see results. Hell most of them probably are sitting on stock of a few 10k of year old boards anyway.


Problem with cellphone boards is that these do not expose GPIOs and are too often too tightly linked with the rest of the phone (once again our good friend RF comes into play, with some phones e.g. using springs to connect antenna pads with the mainboards, others using antenna cables, others using PCB printed antennas)... and never mind about the custom connectors used for PCB connects which cannot be soldered by hand and due to pin changes can't even be re-used...


Don't expose GPIO directly. Soldering stuff on it can potentially ruin the phone. Have it be connectible to a breakout board and let that board be hackable.

Also let me connect my phone to a monitor and keyboard and use the thing as my development platform. All in one.

Maybe a modular breakout board connectible to the IO port would be a better startup idea.

I've never programmed for mobile devices but are the operating systems open enough to let it be possible to write a drivers for these things?


I'm hoping that we'll have that with Ara. It's PCI-E like bus means you could have a GPIO breakout module for dirt cheap.


modular breakout board connectible to the IO port would be a better startup idea

Android IOIO: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/12633


Sure, it would be cool to have a hardware-hackable phone, but I don't see it replacing most of the niches the RPi does well:

* Leave one in the basement or the garage logging data from some sensor

* Give one to a kid to hack on

* Play around with using it as a server, as a media player, as a mini-workstation

Yes, most phones are more powerful than a Raspberry Pi, but no one is using a RPi because it's the most powerful thing out there. It's cheap, hackable, and separate from our other devices, but can be networked with them.


The Raspberry Pi is really a tablet system on a chip mounted on a breakout board. You can get $50 tablets easily. Some are even cheaper.[1] There are various USB to GPIO devices.[2] If you need a display and user input, it may be easier to start with a low-end tablet than with a Raspberry Pi. The main problem is 1) getting Android out and a more developer friendly OS such as Ubuntu Touch in, and 2) finding a tablet which is a USB master. (Phones are usually USB slaves. Laptops are usually USB masters. Tablets come in both flavors, plus the new "USB on the Go", which allows the master and slave to switch.)

A nice product package would be a low-end tablet with some general Linux distro pre-installed and a USB to GPIO device, priced around $75. That would be useful for when you want a little machine with a UI to control something. Anything like that on the market?

[1] http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GART8LE/?tag=twup-20 [2] http://numato.com/8-channel-usb-gpio-module.html


Most, if not all, embedded SoCs I have laid my hands on as an EE were either OTG or slave


A reasonable number of USB master tablets exist. There's a web site for tablets with USB-A (master) sockets.[1]

[1] http://www.tabletswithusbports.net/


Not to appear picky but I think this needs to be clarified a bit. USB uses synchronous (request-response) wire protocol and one side is always requesting, another responding - hence master and slave. This is not runtime configurable/negotiatable.

Traditionally USB transceivers were designed as either master or slave (host/peripheral), though with the rise of smart peripherals (embedded/mobile devices) came need for both in one device. Manufacturers could design product with 2 different USB transceivers or use one that is configurable to either master or slave.

If you examine any mini/micro USB port/plug you will find 5 pins, and 4 pins on a large (both A and B). That extra pin is actually a toggle for OTG transceiver mode. Of course manufacturers can decide to internally wire transceiver to any mode and expose only data/power pins, but that does not stop transceiver from being OTG. Exactly this is done in top Android tables from mentioned site - they have nVidia Tegra SoC which actually uses OTG transceivers.

I am not intimate with PC hardware (would expect master-only transceivers), but, as I have said before, all embedded SoCs I have laid my hands on (not too many) used either slave-only or OTG transceivers.


USB 'on the go' was first standardized in 2001. It's not exactly new. Given commonalities between phones and tablets, many phones can do USB OTG, though they sometimes need root to be properly useful.


RPi is $25-35. A phone is at least $100, most probably $300-ish. What would you prefer to accidentally fry when fumbling with DIY electronics?

This one would be enough, but why stop.

A lot of space in RPi and similar boards is dedicated to I/O pins and jacks. Would you carry an 1" thick device (or even an 1.5 cm thick device) instead of your current phone?

RPi runs various flavors of Linux, RPi2 will also run Windows 10, and you can try to run an entirely different OS. Are you comfortable changing the OS of your phone? Is it easy?

Well, you see. A phone is a piece of your life-support infrastructure (think calling 911), while an RPi is an entirely different thing that most people want to keep separate.


> A phone is at least $100, most probably $300-ish.

Not really. The prices have dropped tremendously. I recently picked up the Alcatel C1 for just $9 at the local frys. Sure it is under powered compared to the flagship phones, but it is really capable enough for tinkering, it also has a touchscreen and comes installed with Andriod KitKat 4.2, which could also be rooted. [1]

The low end Lumia phones always go on sale and has amazing specs for what you pay. For example Lumia 635 (on sale $19-$49) has IPS display, 5mp camera, Quad core 1.2GHz and a good amount of sensors. [2] However the gripe with these is these are not as hackable as Andriod, so good for backup phone but not so good for DIY projects.

[1] http://www.cnet.com/products/alcatel-c1/ [2] http://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_lumia_635-6254.php


While you can get phones at these prices, not that they are locked to a provider and subsidized by them. The cheapest 3G+Wifi no-strings-attached phones I could find whenever I looked were always $35-$45, and it's been that way for 3 years now, and they always have mediocre specs (low res screen, low capacity battery, old android).

But they ARE usable for many uses RPi is, and they do have a working 3G and WiFi, and also a touch screen, a speaker and a battery


Verizon prepaid Moto G is $20-40 depending on the current sales. No bootloader unlock, no root, no SD slot, and no gyro but otherwise a pretty good little device for running stuff.


You can play with an FPGA on your phone without spending too much: http://www.bugblat.com/products/fan/


Pity it's not an ice40 part, otherwise it would have been possible to run the entire toolchain on Android (yosys+arachne-pnr+icestorm).


The Pi requires a micro SD, power supply (2a at least), USB WIFI. Once you add all those up, a cheap smart phone which includes a battery, battery charging circuitry, a camera, a touch screen and GSM seems much more attractive.


> RPi is $25-35. A phone is at least $100, most probably $300-ish. What would you prefer to accidentally fry when fumbling with DIY electronics?

I wonder how much of the phone cost is the display, cellular chips, microphones, speakers, light sensors, accelerometers etc?



If you want to see this happen, your best bet is to help out with Fernvale, it's pretty close to what you've described (the phone/microcontroller part anyway, could add an additional CPU for desktop use). Here's a blog post about it: http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=4297

Fernly is the work-in-progress OS for Fernvale: https://github.com/xobs/fernly


You can actually build a working cell phone today with an Arduino, check out this guide: https://learn.adafruit.com/arduin-o-phone-arduino-powered-di... The guts of it are based on Adafruit's FONA board which uses a SIM800 GSM & GPRS chip to talk to the cell network.


That was my first thought. And that's a relatively quick 'n easy version, I think you could make a much more compact version using a smaller Arduino and a breakout version of the FONA instead of the shield. Replacing the TFT touch-capable screen with a little OLED and physical buttons for dialing would also help and increase battery life (their 2 keypad options don't look well suited for this tho').

Using the shield form factor in the guide made it relatively easy to hold all the pieces together. Using smaller components would cry out for a case to hold them together.


Yep, great idea to use a little OLED and go for something smaller. You might check out the Metro 'mini' board or other similar small Arduino boards like the Micro, Mini, Nano, etc. too: https://www.adafruit.com/product/2590


Your phone runs a bunch of proprietary stuff that I as a hacker don't want. Additionally, it doesn't have (enough) USB ports, HDMI, a bunch of pinouts, ethernet, PWM, etc.

http://www.ubuntu.com/phone plus an optional, well-integrated dock would be interesting though.


>what's stopping someone from producing an all in one device: Desktop/phone/hobbyist micro-controller

I can't even physically imagine that device, any more than I can imagine a trailer/motorcycle/airplane. (Well, I mean I can - just slide your phone apart to expose not a keyboard, but GPIO pins, and have an ugly HDMI out on it that turns it into a "desktop" stick. If I stretch my mind I can think of exactly one really good use for these specifications: handing them off to design team on April 1st. Few things are as exciting as the maker movement, Apps and phone development, or as powerful as desktop computing. With this in mind, this December we will be announcing the Android Phone and PC Environment Stick with Hobbyist Integrated Telemetry. Positioned directly at the intersection of desktop computing, a sleek and powerful phone, and an undergraduate electrical engineering course, project APPESHIT will do more than you ever thought possible in a mobile desktop phone microcontroller...)


I’ve been thinking about this too. Imagine if a server rack looked like this: https://testazyk.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/iphone5.jpg That would be pretty cool.


I've bricked the OS on my RPi enough times that the thought of hacking on my phone the same way makes me cringe... and I think that's the whole point.

I've tried different operating systems, hooked it up to all sorts of peripherals, left it running and hosting a VPN server in a drawer for an entire year...all things I'd never want to do with my phone, and all valuable learning experiences. A big part of the appeal is that it's not a computer you're relying on, so it's okay to break it (and fix it at your leisure).


I've played with Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black, and have also poked around in my Android phone. My impression with the phone has been that programming Android involves a much steeper learning curve than either the RPi or BBB.

For me, the two things I really like about the RPi (and BBB) are that I can plug in a full size keyboard and display, and that I can write and edit programs on the thing itself. Or I can use SSH or Remote Desktop, but I'm still programming directly on the target device.

I need the ergonomics of a full sized human interface due to my advancing old age, but I just have a visceral dislike for cross programming environments, where you program in an IDE on one computer, and run your program on another. Maybe this goes back to my earliest experiences with computers, where you flipped a switch (or entered a user name) and were instantly greeted with the BASIC prompt. I put up with cross development for microcontrollers, but still prefer a direct route.

Also, I'm not afraid to kill the RPi, and I can start over from a completely blank slate if I want to. When I think that I've gotten something working, I often wipe the system and re-install everything to make sure I know what would be required if someone else wanted to use my program.

As for my "case," I just attach everything to a piece of scrap plywood with wood screws, in the original sense of the "breadboard."


"... cross programming environments..."

Rather than attach a keyboard, I connect to the RPi via ssh from my laptop. Compiling on the RPi itself is painfully slow in my experience.

I suppose eventually I will ditch x86 and my "laptop" will be ARM too for whatever that is worth. Then I can just focus on ARM assembly.

I never write to the SD card except when I am writing a new image with dd which is not very often. The root filsystem is in RAM (tmpfs). I can remove the card after boot so the slot is free.

I run this way from RAM on x86 too, even when I have a HDD. I like a diskless environment removable external storage for long-term data storage.

The only time I worry about USB stick or SD card read/write speeds is when I am putting a new image on the media with dd. I still wish there was something like a next generation Jornada on the market. A rugged palmtop with Ethernet, WiFi, and USB slots that boots from CF card.

But in 2015 it looks like a development board on scrap plywood with wood screws is the only choice.


I'd be happy with a reliable way of repurposing old phones. There's a ton of CPU and GPU power just being thrown away every time we upgrade our phones.


Its been done:

http://openpandora.org/

.. and its getting a new revision:

http://www.pyra-handheld.com/

This is exactly the device you describe - powerful, complete, can be used in Desktop or handheld (or embedded) modes, open source, open community, no walled gardens or other limitations placed on developers ..


Perhaps you should look into the Neo900 project: http://neo900.org/


People are already doing this with the Motorola Atrix 4g Laptop dock.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67Jm8IiwURQ


Doesn't Microsoft have the desktop feature in Windows 10 for their phones? Hopefully, Google does the same thing. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse or USB-C would be perfect.


There's a nice market for a sturdy hackable device. I don't care for uber thin phablets. But a semi old school design with IO, less heat, more battery.


OEMs think everyone wants the a thin phone at the expense of everyone else. Good luck finding a place for HDMI and extra USB ports on most current phones.


Most phones have MHL or Slimport on their USB, so HDMI output is not a problem. Newer phones have Miracast too, for wireless display.


We built Thingsee One (http://www.thingsee.com)


On a similar note, I'd love a modern version of the Tandy Model 100. Small, cheap, lasts forever.


check out ubuntu phones - ubuntu.com/phone - we run a full linux on a phone.

Just need a usb breakout cable for analog i/o


Can you connect a keyboard and (HDMI) screen?


You can, on nexus 4 and nexus 7, and soon on newer hardware




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