Why That Phone Charger Took Two Years to Arrive – NYTimes.com

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Designing and fabricating a basic prototype was much harder than they had expected, and they spoke wearily of the process of obtaining permission from Apple to sell the case as a licensed accessory.

I am glad I keep reading this articles. I am reminded many times that people underestimate the manufacturing end of the product. It is great fun designing, marketing and branding, but hey you finally have to make the thing since you promised to deliver it. That is where the fun really is. At the last New York Hardware Meetup it was a abundantly clear from the panel that the manufacturing planing was a key thing that was underestimated.

Manufacturing plan is very important. The other item left out is DFM (Design For Manufacturability). People have forgotten about this too. Not forgot, but did not know they need to know that this is part of the product development and manufacturing process. The DFM process makes sure that your product is manufacturable. Without it you have no way of knowing if your product is manufacturable. It is best to keep DFM in mind when you are prototyping your product. That being said, there are many variables when it comes to DFM. In a nutshell you need to work with a person that has the skills and experience working with a factory to know what those variables are.

via Why That Phone Charger Took Two Years to Arrive – NYTimes.com.

Let It Roll, Let It Roll or Not

Calm Beach Ahhhh
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We have been there before. You know that situation when you see people repeating the same mistakes you have made yourself and you think if you advise them that will change their current path. It makes me want to say “Ugh, What the f*@k are you doing?” Most of my colleagues have been there too. However when you are working with startups and people who have their own first business…sometimes you want to tear your hair out. Do you standby and let it roll?

In some situations I will voice my opinion, but there are some situations where you know if you say something it will not work. I have heard it before; “Oh you don’t know our situation” or the best one “That will not happen to us”. History always repeats itself said some very wise man and it is so true.

What do I do in those situations? I let it roll.  Sometimes the best lesson is the one you learn yourself. I watch and see people learn for themselves. It works great. You can sense when someone is not responsive to advice. You can see it in their face when you start talking with them. Sometimes I do give it anyway just to see the reaction.

Not to say I am sadistic by any means, but it is sometimes is funny to watch. It is like a sitcom played out for everyone to see. A show. A well written show. Well written because it happened so many times before that there must have been time to make the writing perfect. Sometimes the endings are difference. Most of the time they are the same. Most of the time it is history repeating itself over and over again.

When I do let it roll good things happen. People learn. They comeback and say oh yeah it did happen…”Oh crap!!!!”. Then the “Oh crap” turns to action and action turns to expected results. Other times you just see it in them. A light goes off and then the path changes. A right turn or left (Doctor Who reference). It is rewarding to see.

It is hard to give advice and it is hard to take advice, but how it evolves is fun to watch. Oh startups, a crazy business and oh so exciting. I am glad to be a part of it.

Photo credit: A Guy Taking Pictures / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Amazon’s Audacious Photography Patent – The Colbert Report – Video Clip | Comedy Central

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I saw this last night and I had to post. I love how Colbert describes the Amazon patent and the patent process. I hope Colbert’s patent goes through. The Amazon patent is just nuts.

Amazon’s Audacious Photography Patent – The Colbert Report – Video Clip | Comedy Central.

 

 

What Is Happening To The iPad. It Is Not About The iPad.

This old computer is so large it takes up a room
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Apple released their earnings report last week and everyone was abuzz about the slowdown of iPad sales and the slowdown of tablet sales in general. Here, here and here. They are missing the point. The market is not going down it is shifting. Something else is happening.

What does this really mean? When we look at the tablet market we need to step back. We should take this as a whole instead of individual categories of products. Everyone wants to characterize each product as being a wearable, tablet, smartphone or computer. They are all computers. Plain and simple. Thinking about it that way it becomes clear what is happening. As the cost of processors goes down and the performance increases. Moore’s law and automation in action.

The result of this is more powerful computers at a cheap cheap price. I thought about this the other day when I got in the mail a coupon. Yep a coupon. It was for a tablet for just $19. The coupon was from Micro Center. They just opened a location near me in Brooklyn on 31st in Industry City. My first thought was that this machine will be crap. Oh yes crap, because what kind of machine can you get for 20$. I investigated further via the web. Like you do when you don’t believe something. I found out that the offer was real and the machine is good. I read the specs and saw dualcore with plenty of memory.

I took the walk to Micro Center. A huge geekie store with everything you possibly would need in tech with very friendly staff. When I got the machine I booted it up and it come up quick. The screen was eh, but it was ok for reading. I connected it to my wifi and when surfing the web it was fine. More than fine. It was fast. I was surprised. I thought the experience was going to be very much like an old Windows 95 machine as it struggles to open word. That did not happen. This is very usable.

I researched this machine further and found out that you can get it on Amazon for 50 bucks. Still not bad. So for $50 you get a machine that is small and has enough power to do email, surf the web and read ebooks on. Just $50. I am struggling with how cheap those capabilities are now.

So soon people will be giving away these machines like they give away USB Thumb Drives. Imagine you are at a conference and instead of getting a USB Thumb Drive from a vender you get a table. Or instead of you getting a program as a booklet you get a tablet that has the program. At this point you could use a tablet like it is paper. I imagine that there would be some disposal and recycling issues if that was to happen. People would then consider them like paper and throw them out. I can see them piling up like folders and papers on people’s desks.

The prices of the laptops are down too and are going to go down even further. The microcontrioller performance is increasing, so why call them a microcontroller any more. They are computers. What we are seeing here is that soon we will have incredible powerful devices with tons of memory that will be very very small. Imagine the uses for technology. Computers are not going to be limited by application and price. Gets me excited.

The small powerful computers are going to be everywhere and why not. It will cheap to collect information and cheap to store it.

I am not sure if we are just seeing a category disappear or shrink, but a category that is spread among other categories. Computers everywhere and at a cheap cheap price.

Photo credit: Stuck in Customs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The 17th NY Hardware Meetup At the New Microsoft Space In Times Square

Hardware Meetup Organizer Haytham Elhawary
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This month the meet up was at the new Microsoft corporate looking space. It was funny I walked in and thought about the times I worked at IBM. The space was huge. I would say that this space was at least three times the size when compared to the space at eBay. It was a welcomed relief not to be packed in like sardines.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

At this event we had two groups presenting. Tom Kennedy and Stephan von Muelhen first talked about their experiences at EnergyHub and what they learned a long the way about the manufacturing experience. They had some great pearls of wisdom that I totally agree with.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

The line from one of their slides said it best for me, “Process is product”. There are a lot of details that need taken care of when you are manufacturing a product. There a thousand things that can go wrong at any given time. Developing a great product means that you know the process from end to end. I can’t tell you how many times I talk with startups that refuse to embrace what needs doing from start to finish. “Embrace The Horror”. This does means that you have an understanding of what needs to get done and realize that there are things that will come up that you may not of thought of. Actually for startups it is not a matter of if, but when it will happen. Since most startups are new to manufacturing and process in general.

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy (EnergyHub & Refactory) and Stephan von Muelhen (EnergyHub)

Tom Kennedy introduced us to his next venture called ReFactory. So, in a nutshell, ReFactory wants to make the PCB/PCBA development and manufacturing process easy. They have many services ranging from design consulting to real PCBA. One main point is that the work is done in the USA in Brooklyn, New York.

Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly Presents

Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly Presents

The next presenter was the fab Christina Mercando, founder of Ringly. I have to say that the product is great looking. It looks high end and wearable. Men’s version? It was great to hear her prospective on bringing a fashionable product to market. I have talked to people who have studied this and they say we are at the infancy of this. I think that Ringly has done some great execution. There are many obstacles to get a product like this to market such as look, electronics and battery size. It just can’t be to big and the battery must last for most of the day. The radios have to penetrate the casing for charging and for Bluetooth. It seems they have solved these problems. The ring is big, but it goes with the styling. Congrats on the great execution.

That was the last presentation. Another one was schedule, but they called to cancel.

Check it out. I have more pictures of the event below. Sorry for the low light conditions, but you should make out the slides and the speakers ok. I did my best to caption the images and make adjustments to the images. Enjoy.

The Age of The Digital Assistant Has Come. Too Soon? Is It Ready?

Cortana Lego Person
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Microsoft announced their digital assistant, Cortana, on Wednesday. It looks like and sounds like Apple’s Siri.   While Microsoft has changed “What I can help you with?” to “Need Something?”. Google also has a digital assistant called Google Now.

I have used Siri off and on. More off than on. It seems like a toy than a workable product. Sometimes she understands me other times I am thinking she just gave up and is now ignoring me.

Google now seems more workable as it notifies you when you need information before you need it. Google Now is a responsible assistant. Siri needs activation to do something for you. Click and hold the iPhone home button and ask it for something. The voice recognition is not great. It needs more time to cook.

I want a digital assistant that would have two actions. One, I can ask it things I need to have done and it will do it. Two, it will know about me since it will have access to all my information on all my accounts and computers (including all mobile devices). The access I give to it given via an encrypted method. If the assistant runs into a problem I don’t want it leaking my information.  I would like the Cortona like assistant to create the information it gets while getting to know me kept in an encrypted area. What happens if the digital assistant becomes too intelligent and wants to become me. I would need a way to cut it off. That begs a question; How would you fire a digital assistant?

Are we ready for this? These Apple, Google and Microsoft are easing us into this very slowly. If we go too fast we would recoil about having a program having access to all our information. Taking privacy into account is a must.

In the future, where would these assistants live? I have given this some thought. Right now these entities live on your mobile device and on the provider’s servers. Eventually when network speed is not an issue I could see them swimming in the wakes of the global internet.  They could go from one network to another. That reminds of the movie Her. Unlike the movie I would not want it sentient. I would not want my assistant running off.

Photo credit: uubergeek / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A Process and a Plan

raja-gopuram
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What does it mean to have a process and sticking to it? A repeatable business process or a process that works for what you are working on is like finding gold. I have been talking with startups that want to automate the hardware product development process. The scenarios run the gambit from automating the idea submission process, to just automating the PCB/PCBa, and then there is the ones that try to automate the process from idea to production.

The sentiment is very clear, people want to get rid of the human element or at least lessen the human effects. Such as; some people are hard to deal with or they don’t understand me or the best one yet – you don’t understand my business. All of these shouts in the crowd makes us seem antisocial. I believe that it is a collaboration between willing parties that produce the best work. The machines do not have the capabilities to act totally autonomously (for now) and with creativity. So when it comes to hardware product development you need both. There are just too many variables to automate.

The process approach works. It works like a well oiled machine and best yet it can be adjusted with feedback. Take this example I ran into all the time. The misunderstanding game. You schedule a meeting, but at the last minute the meeting changes from an in-person meeting to a conference call. Not a video call. Once the call starts you can hear on the other end the person click with the mouse and the keyboard. What are they doing over there? They are distracted. The call covers the topics discussed, but the key elements of the call. I will call this the understandings fall to the waist side. What has happened? Unknowingly without you paying attention the parties on the call don’t get it and the call was a waste of time. How often does this happen? Well in my time more times than none. So what I do is make sure you can see the person, at least at first. And this can be done easily now with the Google Hangouts or Skype. The face-time is essential for building trust and the relationship. After the sense of trust is there then the non-face-time tools will work much better and the understandings will not fall to the waist side. A personable approach just works.

Why is this part of the process and not assumed to be operational? That is because too many people are rush rush rush and too busy to know how to make a relationship. The relationship building is essential to the process. Once a sense of trust is there, even a little bit the rest will be simpler. Mistakes will not be the blame game, but a game of how do we fix it and come up with a creative way to solve the problem. Interwoven in the process is trust.

How could you then automate this in a computer? People have thought of various was to build trust or cred online. There is klout, linkedin, etc. However, we know that social media can be faked and the posts can be BS. Nothing new there. Before all of this people would BS on their resume and the only way to find out was to be a good interviewer or try the candidate out. Been there done that. Could you automate this? What would be a software solution for trust building? There is the recomendation engine solutions, but what happens if you are new to the site and you have none listed and you have many years with experience. What would be the online solution for trust?

Let’s experiment with a particular scenario – I am a hardware startup, I have a great idea, and I want to get my product idea to market. I have a limited number of skills. So let’s say that you are not very technical (You don’t know manufacturing) and you have made a software startup before. What is the process to use? Every step of the way you can get people to help. The things to watch out for is money, time and quality. Do you have the money to pay people, can you get people to help you for free or can you learn what you need to know yourself? How fast do you need to get this product out? If you say I need to sell this within a few weeks, you are crazy – That will never happen. The best thing to do is to research other products that are similar as yours. Research the business portions of your product idea for viability. That is right – Is it a viable product? There are methodologies out there to help you such as Lean Startup. Viability also means that you need to dive in and see who out there is doing what you want to do, what markets they and you want to be in and get a sense of the cost. The cost is not in the details yet but is important to know what the market would pay for your product.

Feasibility is the next step. Can this product idea be built? I have heard some crazy comments about this. Oh yes, everything can be done. However most people read that up to that point and then don’t read about the cost and time elements. Sure you can develop a new method of communication (for example), but what about the technology and what about the market acceptance? Is it too soon? Does the technology need more time to cook? By cook, I mean does it need more research and development. Did you pick a technology that no one is using or the only ones using it are the big players? For you to enter you need to be a big player. Startups that have reached this step tend to look at the future technologies and don’t put into account this. An example of this is that you want to use a screen technology that would make your product look gorgeous. You find a technology that is great, but very few people are using it and the players are big companies. What do you do here? You start out and create a version 1 of your product. The product does not use the new technology, but you can get a product out there that can be used and feedback gained. Or you can wait till the technology matures. If you are a large company with limited access to the technology then you can wait. You have the time and the money. For a startup, you need to get something out there so you can tell if the product is the right one for that market. It is best to know now before you spend a lot of time and money on the product. Look at it another way. You need to gauge the market and get data so you can understand the acceptance. Through the lifecycle of the product, you will have other versions of the product. This should not be your first and only one – how will you have a business with repeatable rents? So come up with version one. Call it the MVP or call it the beta product. Get the data and repeat.

Hardware product development takes time. You can tell from the latest crowdfunding campaigns that people have underestimated the duration and skills needed to deliver. Get someone that has done this before and ask their advice. Find out how similar products were made. What were their hiccups – Then put together your plan. Having a process and a plan will make you successful.

In future blog post, I will get more specific about how all this works. I have thought about creating a multipart post, but I have not thought that far yet. I need to get my writing process together and then create a plan.

Photo credit: Prabhu B Doss / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND