Raspberry Pi Gets a Touchscreen to Call Its Own

The Raspberry Pi Foundation on Tuesday announced the availability of a touchscreen that brings the low-cost tiny computer one step closer to becoming a standalone mobile device. The touchscreen was in development for nearly two years.

The first round of screens will require some assembly of parts that arrive in a small kit, noted Gordon Hollingworth, director of software at Raspberry Pi. For those who can tolerate the wait, shipments of assembled screens will come later.

Although Hollingworth pegged the display’s price at US$60, the Raspberry PiAuthentic Swag store was offering it for Pounds 48, or about US$74, as of Thursday.

It took almost a year to solve technical issues with the display. Built-from-scratch, it is a 7-inch capacitive, 800×480 screen that supports 10-finger touch. Both the display board and the Raspberry Pi case can be mounted on the back of the screen.

Until now, Raspberry Pi users could hook up a display through an HDMI port. The touchscreen’s availability now makes it easy for users to convert the minicomputer into a tablet.

“The addition and availability of the new touchscreen should help to simplify both the programming and use of Raspberry Pi devices across a range of solutions, including Internet of Things, home automation and education,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Displaying the Benefits

The touchscreen display does more than enhance the Raspberry Pi as an individual product. It really reflects the essential commoditization of touch-enabled technologies, according to King.

“That is clearly evident in the $60 cost of the 7-inch display, along with the commonality of touch as a preferred interface in an increasing number of products and use cases,” he told LinuxInsider.

This additional piece of equipment can go a long way in influencing Raspberry Pi’s use in educational settings. For kids today, intuitive touch displays are the preferred mode of user interaction, allowing even prereaders to participate in lessons and activities.

“By adding this cost-effective touchscreen, Raspberry is ensuring that Pi-based devices and their developers will continue to have a seat at the table in educational settings,” King said.

Technology Hurdles

What started out as a six-month research and development process turned into an almost two-year odyssey to build a working touchscreen display. Several critical issues plagued that progress.

One of the biggest problems was getting the touchscreen to pass European Union CE and U.S. Federal Communications Commission electromagnetic compliance regulations. That problem was solved with a redesigned board.

Existing touchscreen modules previously were not suitable for use on the Raspberry Pi because of the clash between DSI and DPI, according to Michelle Burke, marketing manager for Future Insights. “A conversion board had to be created to easily combine the two. It was difficult to find a manufacturer to support this, along with product longevity, quality, affordability and so on.”

Designing Issues

One potential design issue could impact user satisfaction. Connecting the touchscreen display to the Pi circuitry is not complicated. It does, however, require caution. Plugging in the display to the wrong connector could burn out everything.

The touchscreen is powered by the Pi’s GPIO port, or by plugging a micro USB power supply into the display board. A ribbon cable connects to the Pi’s DSI port.

The display module integrates the LCD display with a conversion board. That board should be plugged into the Raspberry Pi through the display connector — but the connector is the same as the camera connector.

The two connectors are not compatible, so users have to ensure that they correctly identify the display connector, Raspberry Pi’s Hollingworth warned.

Near Picture-Perfect

The display does not fire up the high-end screen resolution of major OEM displays, but what you get for the price is not bad.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation focused on industrial-strength LCD displays. The organization chose Inelco Hunter, based in the UK, for the design tasks.

An optional frame is available in six colors from the Swag Store for about Pounds 10, or US$15.

“Raspberry Pi’s long-awaited touchscreen display will enable us to use the screen on the go while remaining affordable. For only $60, users can build their own devices from anywhere,” Future Insights’ Burke told LinuxInsider.

The official Raspberry Pi display is available at the Raspberry Pi Swag Store, Allied Electronics, Newark element14, Premier Farnell and RS Components.

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