The 21 Bitcoin Computer has started shipping. The compact devices look a little like a Raspberry Pi strapped to a jet engine, and they are perhaps one of the longest awaited and least understood bitcoin mining hardware projects. The first units are rolling around in trucks already, so now is as good a time as any to take a look at what a bitcoin computer is exactly.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer is the first computer with native hardware and software support for the Bitcoin protocol. It functions as a standalone Linux computer, or you can hook it up to your existing Mac, PC, or Linux computer. The device comes from San Francisco startup 21 Inc, which is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Qualcomm, Cisco, and Peter Thiel.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer has generated some excitement in the bitcoin community and even made it on the Amazon bestseller list when it was still in pre-order status. But there is also a lot of misunderstanding out there about what the machine does, and criticism of the device as overpriced hashing power.

21 Bitcoin ComputerThe 21 Bitcoin Computer runs a full bitcoin node and mines bitcoin for programmatic use, using its own hardware and connecting by default to the company’s buffered mining pool (with no fee). The pool’s payouts are normalized to eliminate the randomness of the reward amount and the time to earn it that normally accompanies bitcoin mining.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer is built for developers, with bitcoin development in mind. It is probably not going to earn you much from mining. But the idea is for it to earn enough to power the applications it runs. Those applications are up to developers to produce, but the possibilities are endless.

“You should not purchase the 21 Bitcoin Computer and expect to make a profit from the satoshis you may receive, but you can potentially do very well by creating bitcoin-payable services.” – 21 Inc

21 Inc published a set of tutorials on their website for a few possible applications of the 21 Bitcoin Computer, including these examples:

Sell online for BTC with Shopify!

“A bitcoin miner in every device and in every hand.”

21 Bitcoin Computer

21 Inc’s mission is to build the full-stack infrastructure of the bitcoin-powered internet. While the 21 Bitcoin Computer may not be (ahem) the most efficient miner out there, it does something important by setting a precedent for computer devices that are bitcoin ready by default. And it adds functionality that doesn’t exist with devices reliant on a software solution.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer incorporates built in bitcoin mining through a pool that offers a slow and steady stream of bitcoin for programmatic use. It offers out-of-the-box support for two micropayment networks providing either on-chain or off-chain transactions for your programmatic micropayments.

“If one is interested in using Bitcoin to enable the purchase of digital goods, then, it stands to reason that we need to (a) create a critical mass of always-up, bitcoin-payable servers and (b) enable bitcoin-equipped clients to find and then directly connect to these servers. Moreover, in order for the Bitcoin experiment to remain maximally decentralized and censorship resistant, these servers should be standalone and mobile to the maximum extent possible rather than hosted solely at static IPs.” – 21 Inc

Perhaps most interesting, the 21 Bitcoin Computer connects on command to a peer-to-peer digital marketplace that enables developers and service providers to connect with each other. The company hosts a developer community as well. More marketplace functionality and payment processor integrations will continue to roll out.

The 21 Bitcoin Computer is an interesting first step into the new bitcoin-enabled internet. With applications ranging from paid sharing of computer resources, micropayments for digital content behind bitcoin paywalls, and even spam prevention measures, the 21 Bitcoin Computer gives developers ready access to the tools to build an income on the internet of things.

Source: 21 Inc. CEO Balaji S. Srinivasan, on Medium