Influence of Crowd funding – CES 2014

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When most of the top consumer product manufacturers where burning the midnight oil to solve the smartwatch mystery, that has been a growing trend over the last few years, one company quietly sneeked in a product in 2013 that took the world by surprise. Rather unheard off in every way, Pebble started off as a dream in an upcoming crowdfunding organization called Kickstarter . When traditional venture capitalists failed them, Pebble looked towards crowd funding in April 2012. And soon it turned into a cult raising around 10 million from around 70,000 users around the world, becoming one of the highest crowd funded projects till date. It wasn’t long before they started mass production with a release date of January 2013. With around 200,000 units sold by the end of 2013, Pebble announced their second iteration of the smartwatch – The Pebble Steel at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

But we are not here to talk to Pebble and its growing success, when companies like Apple and Samsung are still struggling to enter this market of watches. Rather I wanted to focus on what made Pebble possible – Crowd Funding. At least 4 of the gadgets that won the CES 2014 Awards were crowdfunded, with Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” , the most notable amongst them. Reports suggest that Eureka Park at CES, the launchpad for startups, saw an increase of around 40% in the number of startups with exhibits. And what more, there was even an Indiegogo Zone at the venue with hoards of hardware startups flaunting their jaw-dropping ventures.

Starting a company has traditionally been expensive, when it involves hardware manufacturing. Finding an investor has been even more arduous if you just have a concept or a dream. Most investors for a manufacturing venture require a well chartered business plan stating the plan of action. This has kept a lot of startups stale for long periods of time. Crowd funding has changed all that. Through certain incentives to the crowd that funds the project, these startups have now found a way to bring their dreams to reality. Statistics show that Kickstarter has 128,244 projects registered with around $940 million pledged by close to 5 million users across the globe and around 55,000 projects among them have successfully taken off. Although Indiegogo have not published their statistics yet, I’m sure they have started to see heavy investments from users all around.

A little bit of trivia while I leave you to mull over the next venture you plan to start, CES 2014 took crowd funding rather seriously. So much that even their live streaming was crowd funded!

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Smartwatches pile in at CES 2014

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I don’t always sound negative when it comes to gadgets and technology, esp. when the potential is huge! For that same reason, when I look at the list of wearable technologies at CES 2014 , I’m excited, but disappointed at the same time. Wearable technologies seem to be the fashion of the era. Google Glass and the hype about smart watches started early in 2013 with Pebble and Sony leading the way. However even after a year has passed, things haven’t grown enough for me to justify moving from my ipod nano-watch strap combo to one of those myriad of new ones in the market. For one, I wear a few things around my two wrists – a watch (typically a traditional one and sometimes an ipod nano on a strap.) and a fitbit, which tracks my activity and sleep. What I would also like to have on it is a heart rate monitor and a GPS and a bluetooth connection to my phone to let me know who is calling.

Here is a quick list of some of the more prominent ones that will be on display at CES 2014 . Let me throw in a disclaimer before I begin. The assessment is purely based on the specifications mentioned in the websites and can change drastically once they are out in exhibit halls tomorrow.

Cookoo

Pros:
Apart from the basic feature of time keeping and synching up with the iphone or android devices, what makes it unique is the fact that it also lets you know when your phone is out of range. Very useful when you are a person who keeps forgetting where you left your phone.
I also liked the remote photo taking capability, something that is missing in an iphone today.

Cons:
It comes with a CR2032 battery, similar to the ones in a traditional watch. Although it says the battery life is long, I’m not sure if traditional batteries can actually handle the multitude of additional connectivity requirements. I would still prefer a battery that can be charged every week.
The design looks more childish, although the case diameter looks big enough.

This seems more like a traditional watch with the chronograph replaced with the modern email,phone,sms trio.

Neptune Pine

Pros:
Standalone. From the looks of it, this watch runs the Android Jelly bean OS, and has a built in antenna supporting upto GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 .
Fitness app that tracks your activity
Heart rate monitor that straps on to your finger tips.
Google now

Cons:
Querty keyboard on a small display. How much of an overkill is that?
Do I really need something standalone. Would I much rather have a watch that supplements my smartphone? It cannot replace a smartphone for sure. So do I really need something this feature rich, esp. at $335?

Sonostar

Pros:
Curved display and touch screen. Perhaps the first of its kind.
Kindle-like display for sunlight readability
Fitness tracker that syncs with Sono Sports app

Cons:
Monochrome
No heart rate monitor

Burg Smart Watch

Pros:
Variety. It comes in multiple styles from Burg 12 through Burg 18 , with varying feature sets catering to different user groups.
Micros SD capability upto 32GB

Cons:
The website seems to have limited information to really assess this watch.

My Kronoz

Pros:
Slick design, esp the ZeBracelet
Device out of range alert for phones that are synced to this.

Cons:
Monochrome display
Light on features, with no fitness tracking and heart rate monitor.
Not very friendly with Android (not that I want this badly 🙂 )

Many more seasoned vendors have decided to venture into this market as well, notable ones such as Qualcom Toq and Sony. Then there is Pebble and the giant Samsung Galaxy Gear. And one might just start to wonder, why is it taking Apple and Google this long ….

Is google’s obsession with bringing out half baked products good?

Beta

Albeit being an Apple fanatic, I must admit, Google has been a pioneer in bringing out some of the best innovations. Starting with the search, gmail, the glass, driverless cars, online word processing, chromecast all followed suit. But in every one of these, you cannot help but notice a similarity (wonderfully pointed out in the book Dogfight by Fred Vogelstein as well). All of them were released to the masses (or scheduled to be released in the case of Google Glass), half baked. As the book says, it is the nature of how Google was in the past that is taking a toll on its new market – the art of product manufacturing. Google inherently has been a web based company, with its search engines and its gmails thriving primarily on the fact that users have an operating system and an internet connection to connect to their services. What that entailed was, Google could easily make changes and add on new features on the fly, without actually disrupting the users ability to work with them while doing so. Having said that, I still maintain the fact that gmail being left in its “beta” form was partially due to someone forgetting to take it out of beta!

As Google started to expand its horizons to consumer products, this trend of “beta” releases seemed to drag along as well. If Android in itself was not a good example, Chromecast was more appropriate. I would rate chromecast as perhaps one of their better releases, for the price and the potential. Having a “flash drive” like product capable of “airplaying” videos and presentations out of a smartphone or a tablet is groundbreaking. But the fact that it was released with just Netflix and Youtube, brings out the “service” based mentality. Agreed chromecast did break a lot of expectations through its sales especially during the holiday season , with me personally buying a few of those as gifts. But to me, it looked like an unfinished beta, at the time of the release.

The beta model works perfectly for a software only solution/product. Releasing a product such as gmail to the masses as beta works wonders, when users do not need to purchase anything. But when it comes to hardware, this rule breaks down. Common man would resist purchasing a beta, unless you are a gadget freak, especially when you have to pay money to buy a product.

Having said all those, Google certainly took a different stance with the Glass, through its Explorer Program (a glorified name for beta testing). It accomplished two things – one, the fact that they have an exhaustive beta testing phase on the hardware itself with a small subset of “gadget fanatics” and two, the anticipation levels of the consumer community grew exponentially.

The book, Dogfight, describes this perfectly. It says that Google is still learning the art of hardware product industry. But it is learning fast. And soon a lot of industries and their incumbent organizations will need to hit the panic button. Google Fiber will revolutionize the cable industry; Google Glass will change the way people live; Google cars will shake up the car and transport industry, albeit the myriad of hurdles it still needs to hop through. And a day will come when “Don’t be Evil” will be on the banner boards across the globe, as Google completes its world domination!

Let me know your thoughts…