As every child hacker knows, even if you can convince your parents to buy you a Switch, and you can find one in stock, the prospect of homebrew software on a Switch is still a ways off.
A new Kickstarter project called Pip appears to be an interesting alternative. It has that familiar Switch form factor, with a touchscreen in the middle and detachable controllers on the sides, but inside the machine is a totally open Raspberry Pi. Can it run the latest Mario or Zelda? Absolutely not. But it does run Minecraft — the preferred method of relaxation for any child hacker — and you can make your own games on it, which is what really counts.
At the heart of Pip is a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 Lite. The module is compatible with typical Pi software and exposes the regular 40 pin header for hooking up to external hardware, but allows for a more compact and battery-friendly mobile device than the typical 3D printed case. There’s also an 800 x 480, 4-inch touchscreen, a couple of USB ports, and HDMI out.
Pip comes with a custom programming tool called Curiosity which you can access through Wi-Fi from a “real” computer’s web browser to do all your coding. Curiosity supports Pyton, Lua, and drag-and-drop Google Blockly coding, along with PHP for some reason. Maybe you want to get a job at Facebook when you graduate from college at age 16?
Curiosity has built-in functions to create games and explore interactive hardware (there’s an optional Pip Breadboard Kit, and some versions of Pip include a built-in camera). An emulator lets you test out your code in the browser, and then you can save it to the Pip once it’s ready for use in the wild.
You can also just swap out the included SD card for a traditional Raspbian Linux distro and use Pip like a regular Pi.
I love to see mobile devices made with open, hackable components. Pip is far from sleek, but it’s a real, usable computer in the much-loved Switch form factor. Pip is supposed to ship in August of 2018 with an Early Bird price of £150 (about $197 USD).