#TOHKBD: Meet The Maker (Interview)
1/ Hi Dirk, firstly a HUGE congrats on the success of your Kickstarter TOHKBD project which at time of writing has hit over 135,000 Euros – we never had any doubts that this would only be a success, but did you and if so what were your potential concerns before embarking on this project ?
Thanks! Yes I definitely had some concerns and actually thought that in the end we would barely hit the goal. The thought of doing a month of extensive marketing has crossed my mind a lot of times. My biggest fear was doing a month of campaigning and then by an inch not making it.
With the first version of TOHKBD (about a year ago #timeflies), the goal was to make a proof-of-concept product for 100 people. I ended up doing 75, taking more time then I imagined. The design was not optimized for production nor durability. A huge learning experience though and it opened up a lot of doors.
With the second version I started off with the goal to make a 1000 pieces (500 < TOHKBD2’s < 2000). By using the same keypad-controller and other basic components, we already had a head start on hardware an the basic software was already running. This meant I could go straight to the industrial design and from the start keeping the production in mind. Since just repeating the same slider design would eliminate all innovation and challenges (and thus my enthusiasm) I did a lot of research into changing the concept entirely, ending up with the reversible-detachable-magnet design. Basically every project I do has something in it that is totally new to me, otherwise I have no drive to develop.
Kimmo has been a huge help (to understate things) in answering all my questions and going the extra mile every step of the way. We’ve actually met at Slush last week for the first time ever, which I think is really funny. Friends and family at home have asked me a lot of times ‘but how can you trust someone you’ve never met?!’, but going the extra mile for each other is the important thing. Without Kimmo this project –and all my other developments- would have stranded in the first week, but having him on board eliminates a lot of concerns and saves a lot in the on-the-shoulder-pressure.
Some time into the project Andrew did an ‘open application’ by sharing his perfect design on Twitter. I had already decided not to go for an off-the-shelf keypad, but had no idea how to even start on the design and producting. Andrew really picked up the challenge and we are in the final stages of getting the design ready at the manufacturer. Producing a keypad on this quality level is generally not possible when ordering less than 10M parts, it is really a miracle we got so far! We disagree on a lot of things design-wise, which really helps in making a good design for everyone and knowing for sure we looked at it from all angles.
2/ It seems you had a readymade customer base with many folk transitioning from the Nokia N900/N950 over to Jolla. What do you think Jolla/Sailfish can learn from Maemo/MeeGo projects in order to be a success and stay around for many years to come ?
Well the thing is that almost all N9(00) projects revolved around producting software and hacking the phones from the inside out. Software is not really my thing, so becoming an active member of the community started when Jolla opened up the possibility of doing hardware projects as well. So I am not really (or really not) the expert on comparing the way Nokia interacted with the community and the internal structure of Maemo/Meego.
There has been a lot of critique though! The more I get into product development, the more I start to recognize the responses I get (when I am unclear about something or have some delay) with comments on Jolla throughout time. But I guess people are a bit more forgiving to me because I am not a 100+ people company.
It is just not possible pleasing all people, and the people that are unpleased shout the loudest. I think it is more important to be generally moving towards a better situation then to jump-wise improve small pieces of a company’s inner workings to please only a few.
3/ You have chosen to 3D print the plastic casing parts of TOHKBD to offer a huge selection of possible colour combinations. Could you talk us through the reasoning and the pluses/minuses of using the 3D production technique ?
Oh fiew, where to start?! To name a few reasons:
Benefits of 3D-printing are:
– Possible to outsource. Shapeways provides a really consistent product while providing a lot of different colour options without any effort on my side.
– Prototype = final product. With that I mean the products I order during the development phase are produced with the same material, in the same shape, with the same finish. This means I do not have to go through another iteration phase when I change from 3D printed casings to for instance injected models to insure all parts fit snugly.
– Short production time. Mold making takes some time and iterating is slow.
– No minimum order quantity. When going for injection, there would be a minimum order quantity per colour and when someone damages their casing in the future and would like a replacement this would not be possible. Now people can easily change the colours in the future or customize the 3D files themself for an even more custom product.
Downside is that it’s expensive. But given the amount of orders now I doubt we are in the region where it even starts to get interesting to look at making molds.
Basically the 3D printing is an extremely flexible product, risks are low, development is fast and post-project parts are easily available.
4/ You have also partnered up with Lastu for the back plate, to make a truly personalised TOHKBD which screams “Jolla”, again, going above and beyond the call – what were your reasons for not simply going with a Henry Ford “give ‘em any colour as long as it’s black” approach ?
People seem to always want something special, whatever the project is. For projects on a very small scale (like DipTOH for instance) people like that there are only a few around and know they have a unique item. I like it very much to be able to make this possible, but for some products (or parts of projects) this is easier than others. With this project there has been a strong focus on easy construction and outsourcing for the manufacturing of a lot of parts. That closes some doors , but opens others. The production of the frames and backplates are outsourced and as a result, the possibilities the manufacturer provides are passed through. It brings some (haha, I mean A LOT) logistics with it, but given the result of giving over a 1000 people a truly unique custom product, this is well worth it!
5/ After the initial success of this project (and your other OH projects), are you considering your next “BIG” TOH project yet ? And if so any hints/clues on what that/they may be ?
I think I got my hands filled with this one and finishing other products for a few months, so I do not know if I will have the time to do another big project on the side. I have a lot of ideas though, but in the end I will only put time, effort and money into it if I know a lot of people want it. Generally I just pitch the idea on TMO and if I have a lot of response, I will continue development. If not then I just focus on other projects.
I am very open to suggestions! Some people approach me with a good idea and have done some background searches to give me a head-start in developing. Others just say ‘do/make/add this!’ and then I just think ‘no’.
6/ Are there any OH projects out there that you yourself have either supported or admire ?
The pool of TOH developers has been a bit scarse unfortunately. I’ve started making some for-dummies tutorial on my site and I hope some guys or girls will pick it up. There has been some interest in the BreadboardTOH, so that is at least hopeful for the future!
TOHOLED is definitely a favourite in the ‘consumer-ready’ category and in the ‘prototype’ category I liked the PowerTOH (link to http://talk.maemo.org/showpost.php?p=1415592&postcount=15) which looked very neat for something that is still under development.
7/ Along with the advent of larger companies working on modular phone systems (ie. phonebloks/ARA etc) do you think this is the general direction mobile technology will head in future or do you think it will remain more of a niche industry ?
I have my doubt on whether the modular phone systems will be efficient enough in the future to really replace the devices for a regular non-techy user. The focus on smartphone development has focussed solely on processing speed, thickness and screen resolution for the last years and at least the last two will come to an end at some point. It makes no sense to make a 6” device that is 3mm thin with a 16K resolution and octadecacore processor.
So there has to come some distinction at some point where there is a lot of room for improvements. I personally think it is really a waste that money that goes into making a 4K display is not spent developing new battery technology. The battery has barely changed over the last decade and other industries would benefit greatly also.
Mainly I have my doubt whether the consumers will change. For me, my phone has become more fun than just being a notification-machine that can make calls. Same counts for the operating system, where I think it is really an added value that lots of community members help changing it and making it better. But before the rest of the world starts to look beyond a slightly faster phone with a slightly improved system, to something that is totally different, I don’t know.
8/ Do you think the next Jolla phone (J2) will be OH compatible and please expand on your views ie. why ?
Ehm… This is something that is suggested a lot of times by a lot of people. It sounds good to have backward-compatibility in all situations, but let’s compare results of keeping the interface the same and results of changing it:
Downsides of changing it:
– each TOH needs to be converted by adding sub-1euro I2C-‘other-interface’ converter
– shape of casing and PCB needs to be changed
Downsides of keeping it compatible:
– almost no thickness reduction of phone possible
– stuck with exactly same size of phone
– stuck with same battery size
– severe limitations on the motherboard due to keeping pogo-pin positions
– stuck with exactly the same camera and flash size and position
– stuck with same I2C limitations
Just to name a few. And don’t even get me started on the lessons learned on the current phone and the possibilities other interfaces and dimensions/shapes can bring. If Jolla keeps compatibility with the current TOHs, then… well… they would be idiots.
9/ Finally, do you think Jolla/Sailfish will ever be able to challenge the likes of Apple/Google and if so how will they go about it ?
Maybe! If the tablet skyrockets they will have a lot more doors opening when the day comes to make the second phone. When they have a competing high-end tablet (check) and high-end phone all that is left to do is to convince the larger public (the sheeple) to jump ship. Easy as pie.
10/ Thanks for agreeing to do this interview and for being awesome (and Funky!) – any final words ?
Thanks for the questions! The ride has been crazy and will only get funkier in the future!
If you enjoyed that and like what you see, head over here to pick yourself up a #TOHKBD now, but be quick as there are only 6 days to go! Remember if you pick up a #TOHKBD, you’ll also get a discount code for a whopping 100 Euros off your Jolla phone making it an absolute steal!
Dirk’s website, FunkyOtherHalf, also has a growing selection of different other halves that you should also definitely check out!
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