Owen WilliamsFormer TNW employee
Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.
Today the wraps came off Ocean, a full server that’s the size of a mobile phone, with a built-in battery, so it can fit in your pocket and go where you do.
It’s a tiny computer that’s powerful enough to run a server — Node.js, to be precise — pre-loaded with Linux, a 1GHz dual-core CPU, 1 GB of RAM, USB 3.0, a 4200mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0 LE and WiFi.
When I heard about Ocean it immediately struck me as a useful tool for my development side projects. If I could take my entire development server with me everywhere, including an external battery, there are so many cool things I could build.
Ocean boots into a headless Linux server, but comes bundled with a server application to help you configure it and install the basics. In that state, with the CPU at continuous utilization, it’ll last for two entire days on a single charge.
That makes a compelling case for developers who might want a simple server used for hacking projects together, or connecting up the Internet of Things in your home. When the power goes out, it just keeps on going.
The thing you might notice that’s obviously missing, however, is somewhere to plug in a screen.
That’s because Ocean is angled at developers who want to build on the go, or are looking to tinker with the Internet of Things, and just want something dead simple, so the screen port was a deliberate omission.
The company behind Ocean might surprise you — iCracked, which rose to fame repairing and selling your iPhone, is building this thing.
I talked with the company’s CEO, AJ Forsythe, and Ocean engineer, David Petrie, who told me that Ocean “started as an R&D project 18 months ago and the goal of the project was originally to allow iTechs to perform diagnostics on smartphones prior to doing repairs, as well as to estimate device prices and automate our trade-in program.”
Apparently, because the company is a device repair company, it figured it was best to build its own hardware to “streamline repairs” in the field.
It uses the device to remove friction and errors from the process by giving those techs a full computer on the go, with USB OTG support, to do their repairs and perform diagnosis on broken phones.
The technicians in the field can plug in customer’s broken devices, automatically grab their serial number and IMEI, and do an initial diagnosis — which helps avoid data-entry mistakes.
Forsythe and Petrie admits that the company sort-of fell into the idea of Ocean, because it was initially using it for small ‘hack’ projects and realized that it had wider potential for that.
You’re probably wondering what I had — couldn’t I just go out and buy a Raspberry Pi and build my own?
Well, true, though those devices can be a hassle to set up and the team says the Ocean is “slightly more sophisticated” as well as having a battery onboard — a Raspberry Pi rig is probably “not something you’d want to show client” jokes the team.
When the Ocean team first started, it tested both Raspberry and Banana Pis, but found they were limited, hard to set up and ultimately didn’t just slide into your pocket, so Ocean was born.
Ocean took about 18 months to go from finalized design to shipping prototype, but there was a “a lot” of prototyping work before that.
I asked what the long term plan is, and iCracked says that Ocean “thinks it has a bright future” but wanted to make sure it has a “solid product-market fit.”
The company does, however, plan to continue development for the foreseeable future. The announcement today is a first step, to see if the Ocean has wider appeal.
The team said that “chances are you know someone who would love to have a Linux server to build Internet of Things [software] on” and that if you’ve played around with Raspberry Pi’s, you’ll love Ocean.
Ocean does have a far higher price that Raspberry Pi, but it comes with more functionality out of the box (including WiFi, Bluetooth and the battery is a significant jump) and developers, like me, are probably willing to pay extra to take the time out of setting it up.
It has put a limited number of tiny computers on sale for the starting price of $149 for 16 GB of storage, going up to $199 for 64 GB — and they’ll be shipping starting in 2-3 weeks.
It’s considered a ‘beta’ product for now, so stock is limited, with an updated device expected to be released later in the year.
➤ Ocean [iCracked]
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