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[PRODUCT] Hardware is the New Software in the Start-Up World

March 27th, 2009 · No Comments

Today I stumbled upon an interesting article from Wired Magazine discussing the rise of the gadget start-up culture. This is an interesting premise considering that most people instantly think of ‘virtual’ products along the lines of Twitter or the now ubiquitous Facebook. I say ‘virtual’ products because they are producing web based products and services that you can’t physically hold in your hand. Web based products have complexities of their own in database creation, scaling, interface design, etc. - but they don’t have the traditional manufacturing issues that physical products do.

When making a physical object you have many different items to deal with such as expensive injection molding tools, physical dimensional tolerances, potential safety and regulatory issues. On top of this you may also still have web based issues such as a site for your company, a web store, and maybe even software to interface with your device. Bigger companies generally have the advantage with all of this stuff because it takes lots of money and lots of resources (people) to manage all of it. The point of the Wired article is that many of those traditional barriers are starting to come down.

The article gives several examples of new companies striving to compete in the arena of consumer electronics such as Roku (makers of the Netflix movie streaming box), Pure Digital (makers of the Flip digital video recorder - just bought by Cisco for $590 million) and the cute and cuddly, yet slick Chumby that are up to similar things. There is also a cottage industry of smaller opensource hardware companies such as Sparkfun, Limor Fried’s Adafruit Industries, and former Make Magazine video producer Bre Pettis’ Makerbot Industries trying to make their way by offering you the tools to create your own hardware and perhaps give you the inspiration for your own gadget start-up.

One of the featured companies in the story was newcomer “Fitbit”. The Fitbit is a cool little widget with a remarkably open development process via the company blog. They give you some great insight to the various stages of the process they have gone through to make their product a reality. From initial concept renderings to vendor sourcing to hardware prototypes and all the way through to packaging design - you can see how it all came together via the blog and the company flickr stream. Very cool stuff.

I’m not going to say whether web based or physical products are harder to develop and get to market - I’m admittedly biased, having worked my entire career thus far in the physical product development world. But I think it’s safe to say that it is a much faster iteration cycle to make changes to a website than an injection molded part. It’s just exciting to see many of these barriers starting to fall so that independent hardware creators can start to move beyond the ‘hobbyist’ phase and start to compete with the big boys.

[Note: Sorry for the link overload today - gadgets are a topic near and dear to my heart and there are lots of people doing cool things out there that people should know about.]

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[PRODUCT] Honey, I Shrunk the Projector

March 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

We recently procured a new projector at the office and I snapped the picture above to show the hilarious decrease in the footprint from the previous model that was included with the office suite.  The small projector shown above is hardly the smallest on the market at the time of writing this post (this one might be), but it’s a good example of gadget evolution. The market is demanding smaller and smaller electronics to be introduced constantly these days as our lives become more mobile.

What many people don’t think about is the fact that while electronics manufacturers are trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology as a competitive strategy, they are also often forced to do so by the laws of supply and demand. For example, as people demand higher quantities of larger TVs the cost of the components to make those TVs will decrease (as long as supply is maintained), thus forcing other suppliers to go in that same direction with their new products. I was once involved in the development of a medical device with a touchscreen display that started out as a 10”, but eventually went to a 15” because it was much cheaper due to the increased demand for larger displays. Sometimes evolution is strategy, sometimes it’s necessity.

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[PRODUCT] The Odd Couple

February 28th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing in the grocery store checkout line and thought to myself “Well, here are the batteries I needed, but if only there was a duck shaped bath water temperature indicator included in the package”. Thankfully, the folks at Duracell have put an end to that age-old dilemma.

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[INFORMATION] Netflix is Winning the War

February 25th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Two movie related posts in a row - I must have been brainwashed by the Oscars on Sunday…

There are times in life when you are subconciously aware of a fact, but take solace in the fact that there is no way to really know the true value of that fact and therefore continue about your day. Much in the same way that people who can’t see the current level of the plaque build-up in their arteries keep double-fisting Big Macs, I was content to leave my Netflix movies peacefully collecting dust on my counter unknowing of their true cost to me….until now.

Enter a new service called FeedFlix with their slogan urging you to “Get Your Money’s Worth Out of Netflix”. FeedFlix is a beautifully simple illustration of the power of visualizing data. You simply type in your Netflix account information and they look at your entire rental history and return rate to spit out some shocking data about your usage. My $17.99 per month subscription is averaging out to me paying $8.49 per rental. Ouch.

This is the genius of Netflix - and also where they might be ahead of other movie services such as Chicago based phenom RedBox. While RedBox maxes out your “late fee” penalty at $25 and effectively gives you ownership of the movie in your possession, Netflix is content with quietly continuing to bill you monthly for your membership and has no late fees. I’m sure there are some savvy folks crunching numbers behind the scenes of both of these operations and they have undoubtedly optimized their billing schemes - but it seems to me that Netflix would win in the long run. Seeing that $1/day pop up on your bank statement for 25 days would raise some red flags and probably get you to return your movie more promptly. If anyone has data to the contrary, please let me know.

…I digress…Arguing the merits of business models aside, FeedFlix is a great tool to help you visualize your spending with a cold, objective slap to the face that dispels the myth of Netflix offering such a value…”You only have to rent 4 movies a month and you come out ahead!”….easier said than done. You win this round, Netflix.

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