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21 Inc. Launches First Product To Mixed Reactions And Strong Sales

Negativity swarmed the launch of 21 Inc.'s very first product, but optimistic developers are starting to win the conversation, and the device itself is now an Amazon bestseller.

After four months of suspense, the company with far more funding than any other company in the Bitcoin space, 21 Inc., released its very first product for pre-order on Monday, the 21st day of the month. The company has raised more than US$121m from venture capitalists.

Named simply “The 21 Bitcoin Computer,” the $400 desktop device is available on Amazon, and will be shipped on November 16, 2015.

The device is composed of a custom mining chip, a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, a heat sink, and customized software centered around creating applications for the Internet of Things, using Bitcoin.

“The 21 Bitcoin Computer is the first computer with native hardware and software support for the Bitcoin protocol. It provides a constant stream of bitcoin and the software to make that bitcoin useful for buying and selling digital goods. Developers use the 21 Bitcoin Computer to quickly make any app, service, or device bitcoin-payable.”
— – 21 Inc.

In May, we covered 21 Inc.’s stated plans for their product line, which did not mention anything similar to this device. The original product description was for a USB hub with a bitcoin mining chip in it. Monday’s announcement came as a surprise to many, causing most to fixate on the specifications of the mining chip.

Many voices online seemed to forget that the stated purpose of this machine has nothing to do with mining. By Monday night, a peek at any bitcoiner forum or online hangout was nearly uniformly raging with posts made by people who were unhappy with this product. Many could not seem to see past the device being a mining computer, since after all, it has a new ASIC mining chip within it, and says in their product listing that you can “Buy digital goods with the constant stream of bitcoin mined by a 21 Bitcoin Chip.”

Some mean-spirited jabs even got tweeted from just outside the bitcoin community, like this one from Bitcoin bear Tim Swanson, who is now the Director of Market Research at R3 CEV: “I have a killer idea: give me $400 & your electricity and one day I will give you $50 back in a currency no one uses”

Even those that did appreciate the concept behind the computer were posting that the price is too high, and the functionality is already achievable with available parts. Coder Scott Robinson, wrote that he was disappointed in both the marketing approach and the price, which is nearly twice what he feels it is worth as a development computer. Another programmer, Sam Patterson of OB1, estimated the price of purchasing the hardware at US$247.44, although he admits that “this ignores the value of the OS, which comes with tools that are supposed to make using Bitcoin easier.”

And then on Tuesday, amidst all of this negativity, an interesting thing happened; The Amazon product listing, despite being a pre-sale, was doing so well that their product made the #1 bestseller spot in Amazon’s Server category. At the time of writing, it has achieved the #31 spot in all computers and accessories on Amazon, which is likely impressing computer manufacturers worldwide, given Amazon’s importance on the global market.

It has yet to be seen why people are buying all of these machines, perhaps they are doing so for the sake of developing on them, or perhaps they are buying them because the product could potentially become a hot collector’s item, forever known as “The First Bitcoin Computer,” as 21 says in their Amazon listing.

By Wednesday, many developers had started speaking up on social media in defence of the computer. Coders, including at least one on the Bitcoin core development team, are perhaps the most likely group to appreciate the devices potential, and have a different take on this product.

"I want one!"
— – Jeff Garzik, Core Bitcoin developer
"@21dotco’s move is brilliant: tackling distribution and btc adoption through hardware and machine to machine interaction"
— – Demian Brener, Streamium
"Gonna go out on a limb and say I actually kinda like the @21dotco device"
— – Chris Ellis, ProTip
"Would love to put @21dotco chips in low end android phones and hook them up to @AbraGlobal wallets. First app…free data?"
— – Bill Barhydt, ABRA CEO

What do these code slingers see in the $400 chunk of hardware that most people don’t?

Programmers typically work with a Software Development Kit (SDK) whenever they come across new technology or programming environments. SDKs, or devkits, are typically a set of software development tools that allow the creation of applications for a certain software package, software framework, hardware platform, computer system, video game console, operating system, or similar development platform.

SDKs allow programmers to dive into a new environment and use its full functionality without taking the time to learn the whole programming language of that environment from scratch. This is exactly the purpose that this tiny bitcoin server was built for; A way for coders to start building applications and new uses for devices in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Simply put, this computer gives them access to a more bitcoin-friendly toolset, which they can build a highly-connected world with. That may be a struggle for the rest of us to imagine yet. There is nothing else like it, and there may never be again if 21’s chipsets become common in everyday computers and smartphones.

21 Inc.’s CEO, Balaji Srinivasan, has laid out his vision for the upcoming IoT on many occasions. His optimistic speeches often set pulses racing, and tempt investors to start writing checks. According to Srinivasan, the end goal is far beyond enabling every electronic device we own to both talk and trade with each other, enabling them to automatically share resources and trade in a truly open market using bitcoin. First, he stresses, each of these devices will need to produce their own bitcoins, so that they have the resources to trade with each other.

"Our long-term goal is to return economic power to the individual. Specifically, we want to make it possible for you to turn your bright idea into passive income by selling Bitcoin-payable goods, games, and services over the Internet through a 21 Bitcoin Computer. And we want to use the success of the 21 Bitcoin Computer to help make Bitcoin the next fundamental system resource, available by default on every new computer. That journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
— – Srinivasan

The first examples of specific use-cases for the 21 Bitcoin Computer are starting to be explored, and they are mostly projects that involve your computer charging micropayments for computing tasks.

One clear example is for webmasters who need social media likes, comments, upvotes, or any other type of marketing micro-task to help the ranking of their website. By paying tiny fractions of a bitcoin for a single link, upvote, or like, a webmaster could spread out his or her marketing around the world, looking like a very natural, diverse set of profiles and IP addresses. Such a program on the 21 Bitcoin Computer should be pretty easy to make, and leave running on the device itself. People using the device can build a passive, hands-free stream of income, just for leaving a tiny server running.

No matter what happens to this project in the future, Srinivasan made it clear during his investors presentation back in May that his plans are to put related devices in many different types of consumer products. If that is indeed still the plan, then it makes perfect sense that selling this developer’s kit as the first product would be ideal, if not even necessary.


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