Bitcoin startup 21 Inc. unveils Bitcoin computer

Bitcoin logoBitcoin logoSan Francisco-based Bitcoin startup 21 Inc. announced Monday its first product for sale: the 21 Bitcoin Computer.

CEO Balaji Srinivasan said in a blog post that the device is the first computer with native hardware and software support for the Bitcoin protocol. According to the FAQs page on the company’s website, the hardware provides a constant stream of Bitcoin and the software make the digital currency useful for buying and selling digital goods.

Uses for the 21 Bitcoin Computer, according to Srinivasan’s blog, include instantly mining Bitcoin from the command line, rewarding peers for sharing your links on social media, selling API calls for Bitcoin and making any Internet of Things hardware Bitcoin-rentable.

Selling for $400 USD, the device is available for purchase on Amazon and will be shipped to buyers in November.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Ben Horowitz, a co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which led 21 Inc.’s $116-million funding round earlier this year, to the Wall Street Journal. “The thing that’s completely missing that I think would make the Internet better would be machine-to-machine payments. It’s just amazingly hard to do right now.”

The newspaper reported that the 21 Bitcoin Computer is targeted at developers rather than consumers, and is part of the startup’s broader goal of turning Bitcoin into an Internet protocol. The device uses a chip 21 Inc. released earlier this year that is connected to the company’s mining pool and provides a steady stream of Bitcoin for the user.

Srinivasan explained to the Wall Street Journal that with this device, users can create a service or website in which conceivably every page view can be monetized. “The utility of bitcoin up until this point has been the speculation value,” said Srinivasan to the newspaper. “We have a new, pretty strong use case for bitcoin.”

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Horowitz compared the 21 Bitcoin Computer’s potential to early Web browsers and his time helping develop Netscape in the 1990s. They were developing a platform, but could not know what would be built on top of it.

“The first website we got excited about at Netscape was this guy who built a webcam to monitor his coffee pot,” he said.

While it may seem frivolous, the newspaper said, it demonstrated that people would actually use the browser in new and creative ways, and it was a small signal of what was to come. “These things can’t happen without some enabling technology.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that Bitcoin gained traction as an alternative currency, but more recently its underlying technology has garnered attention for its prospect of modernizing the financial system. 21 Inc.’s vision entails building a network of machines that could essentially talk to each other across the Bitcoin network, launching a platform for machine-to-machine payments.

Horowitz told the Wall Street Journal that machine-to-machine payments could solve a host of problems today. He mentioned services such as Netflix and media companies.

“If I could read stuff on the web for a small amount of money, and didn’t have to open myself up for repeated charging or subscriptions I didn’t want? That’s a relatively straightforward application if you have machine-to-machine payments,” he said.

Image credit: Sirius