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InfoQ Homepage News Open-Source Raspberry Tablet CutiePi Lets Developers Customize Hardware and Firmware

Open-Source Raspberry Tablet CutiePi Lets Developers Customize Hardware and Firmware

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The Taiwanese startup CutiePi recently launched its Raspberry Pi tablet on Kickstarter. CutiePi software and hardware design are entirely open-source, and thus can be customized at will. CutiePi self-describes as the first truly usable and thinnest Raspberry Pi tablet.

Phoebus Torralba, who initiated the project on Kickstarter, explained the motivation behind CutiePi’s tablet:

All Raspberry Pi developers know setting up a Pi development environment is never fun. It’s cumbersome and messy, requiring a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Before you know it, your desk is covered in peripherals and the development board.”_
[With the tablet, you can] liberate your Pi project from the desk, and start creating wherever an idea strikes you.

CutiePi runs a Linux- and open-source Qt-based stack on a custom quad-core, 1.2GHz open-source board based on Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+ Lite with 1GB RAM.

Unlike standard Raspberry Pi models, the Compute Module lineup is aimed at enterprise companies. Raspberry Pi compute modules are thus not designed to be used as a home computer, but are slimmer and thinner boards designed to sit inside industrial and consumer appliances. They have been used for instance in NEC digital signs and the industrial-grade Revolution Pi from Kunbus.

The Raspberry Pi model used by CutiePi has fairly decent specs vs. the low end of embedded devices, while remaining reasonably economical (generally below 40$). However, a general-purpose Raspberry tablet requires an optimized user interface that leaves a maximum of memory, CPU, and battery life for user applications and browsing. The open-source CutiePi shell that powers the tablet’s user interface is an optimized mobile UI written entirely in Qt on top of the Raspberry Pi OS. The shell comes with built-in apps that include a lockscreen app, web browser, side-tab for multi-tasking, orientation-sensor support, and more.

A key characteristic of the CutiePi tablet is that it is entirely open-source. That includes hardware design, firmware, middleware, driver enclosure, and user interface. This means that users may modify the tablet design or software to customize the tablet without paying any royalty or exposing themselves to patent violation. This may be important for both DIY users and industrial users seeking to fit the tablet to their use case.

Lizzie Prader from Moddable recently singled out in an interview to InfoQ the issues with proprietary hardware:

IoT has a ton of issues. User privacy isn’t respected, companies orphan products, manufacturers decide which products are interoperable and which are not, the security of some products is a joke – the list goes on and on.

Having the full tablet information available online makes it easy to repair and replace pieces (right-to-repair movement). This fights both planned obsolescence and lock-in.

CutiePi features an 8-inch touchscreen (1280x800) and a 5000 mAh battery (five hours of autonomy under some conditions). Connectivity-wise, CutiePi comes with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, six GPIO pins, one USB type-A port, one USB type-C port for charging, one micro HDMI port, and a microSD slot. The tablet weighs 360g. The full technical specifications are available on the project’s Kickstarter page.

Cutie Pi's tablet

Prospective users have enthusiastically received Cutie Pi, which reached its initial funding goal in a few hours, and currently has three times the sought-for funding. One developer said on Twitter:

A hackable tablet!? That’s awesome! Now I wish there is an 8GB version of @Raspberry_Pi compute module

One user asked about the applications that are usable with the tablet:

Hello,
I wonder which kind of apps we can get here? And how to install/use them?
The FAQ isn’t very talkative about it (or maybe I didn’t understand everything).

The CutiePi team answered:

We are shipping with the following two:

  1. Standard PIXEL desktop: all the usual Raspberry Pi OS environment and apps

  2. CutiePi shell (at this moment): terminal emulator + web browser + virtual keyboard

And through OTA, users will get:

  1. CutiePi shell (future upgrade): all of above + X Window apps + Wayland-compatible apps

If you have more questions, please let us know or join our Telegram chat group https://t.me/cutiepi_io for technical / development questions

Raspberry Pi is a series of small single-board computers developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries. A decline in technical skills and computer science applicants observed in 2012 in Cambridge was explained by one generation benefiting from simple-to-program home computers in the 80s (like Amstrad CPC or Sinclair) and the subsequent generation switching from computers to appliances (consoles or tablets). The Raspberry Pi proponents started the Pi project as a way to get easy-to-hack computers back in the hands of young students.

Raspberry Pi is also now used for DIY hobbies, industrial applications, edge computing, IoT, and more.

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