W. H. Heydt wrote:The whole Pi phenomenon is unprecedented in the SBC market. Prior to the Pi, if you had publicly stated that someone could sell 8 million small, cheap SBCs in 4 years, the best you could have hoped for would have been to be laughed at. The worst would have been a visit from some guys with a very long sleeved white coat to take you gently away to a home for the bewildered. Such a claim wouldn't have been credible in any way, shape or form.
Which was quite infuriating for those of us who could see such a huge market and potential for a capable but inexpensive, well supported SBC and predicted as such. In fact, both for the original Pi and the Zero, my predictions have been far closer to what has happened than the Foundation and others predicted.
You are right; I was laughed at when I suggested sales would be as high as they are, criticised for saying the initial 10K quantity and 100K batches were far, far too small to meet demand. And it seemed that only I wasn't surprised when a million Pi's were sold in the first year of volume production
It's not that there were no cheap and capable SBC's before the Pi; it's just that they were not really SBC's as such but were hacked routers, NAS's and the like. Support was sorely lacking and one had to be quite committed to venture in that direction. From the number of people trying to repurpose products, the number who gave up because it was just too difficult or frustrating, settled on mini-ITX most often and resigned themselves to the cost of doing that, it was obvious to me there was a huge market for something like the Pi.
Where the Foundation scored was through Eben's relationship with Broadcom which gave access to a very capable chip no other SBC wannabe could get their hands on, plus the positioning of the Foundation as a charity.
Other embedded product makers had the opportunity to deliver a Pi equivalent far earlier on - particularly the Chinese, manufacturers of digital cameras and picture frames, media players and the like, who had the economy of scale and familiarity with mass production - but they could not see the market potential, could not see enough profit in it, would not take the risk, or simply were not interested.
They perhaps had a point; the Zero is itself a demonstration of the difficulty in supplying a product so cheap that it's not really commercially viable, and that's even more of a problem for a profit-based venture.
What the Pi has done is encourage other who are prepared to make smaller profits and build businesses around that.
But I guess it's just human nature to laugh at people trying to do what others see as impossible or pointless and there is plenty of ridicule, criticism and dismissiveness on this forum directed at other players entering the cheap and capable SBC market. A good part of that is tribalism and protectionism but it often also shows a rather blinkered mindset.
Before the Zero arrived there were many people adamant that it was utterly impossible to produce a credible SBC for $5, many who believed it was insane to suggest otherwise.