Happy Friday Backers,
Here is an update from our Dear Leader for the weekend. Advanced warning - it's long and detailed and in places even a little weird but he has been traveling for weeks so we'll just go with it.
Back in London it's a public holiday this coming Monday but no rest for the wicked, well not for the Engineering team anyway which pretty much amounts to the same thing.. These lost souls will be here throughout the weekend in order to meet some pretty aggressive deadlines prior to production. Spare a thought for them and have a great weekend!
Back in China this week and a round of meetings, factory visits, project reviews and road map planning meetings.
We’ve been right through the delivery chain with this product. Normally you would spec a product, get a lead partner and let them manage it through, but we have all heard so many stories about production practices and worker welfare in China that I wanted to make sure that our supply chain was ethical and that we liked and trusted the people running the factories.
The only way to get even the slighted feel for that is to put in the leg work and spend time with the operators exploring how they work. So far, during this project I have visited over 137 suppliers and selected 24 to work with.
It goes without saying that our major suppliers such as chip vendors, tooling and injection molding companies, software engineering teams and product development companies are all top-flight organizations with exemplary credentials. I was not worried about these companies, but I wanted to take a closer look further down the supply chain – at the component level, as these are normally out of sight.
So this week and last I have focused on the detail behind the scenes. Why is this important to me and to our team as a whole? 3 reasons:
1) Welfare - I want to know that every supplier is concerned for the welfare of their staff. I want you to feel that the device you will play with is made with care by people who have some interest in making it. I see it as my moral responsibility to make sure this product is ethical from start to finish.
2) Shared vision. I wanted the supplier to share in the vision of what we are trying to achieve. One factory may make only the capacitors on the PCB but it is important to us that they see what they are contributing to as that leads to the next point:
3) Quality. The only way to get what you want is to put in the leg-work and spend hours obsessing about the finest detail with people who are motivated to help. This takes time but is vital if we are to succeed.
Yesterday Tim and I spent many hours in a cable factory. It's the 9th cable facility I’ve visited. Some, I am afraid to say, are utterly heart breaking. You might think that USB and HDMI cables are made by machine but sadly most are they are not. Each wire on each solder point, at each end, is done by hand in many many factories. Humans are cheaper than machines. What a painful thought. The workers sit at benches in rows straining their eyes to actually see the solder points. The fact is that we all want commodity prices and China wants to deploy labor and this is where it meets at the thin end of the wedge, but it puts things in to perspective when you realize how much manual labor goes in to the supply chain. Which is precisely why we are spending so much time on it.
The factory that we visited was semi automated, but still relies on using manual labor. The working conditions were good and the staff seemed content and were smiling and laughing (at us probably). This factory is very small and produces around 2 million units a year but the management have the right attitude. We walked through the factory, inspected all of the processes, machines and tools etc to satisfy ourselves that they were a fit supplier for GameStick. I think this level of transparency is a requirement in modern manufacturing and I wish that the worlds larger manufacturers spent more time and effort honoring their responsibilities to both the workers who build the products they sell. Several times they said it was unusual for the CEO of an international company to spend time this far down the supply chain, which saddened me.
A factory we chose not to work with.
Anyway – back to the detail. Our dock has a unique cable entry system – in that you plug the female end of the HDMI socket through a hole in the dock housing and then push it on to the stick. In turn this means we have to create custom HDMI leads with custom fittings which means more tooling and moldings.
We spent hours going through hundreds of existing HDMI end points but in the end decided that we would have to start from scratch and design our own. So we phoned London and had our product designers take a look. We phoned the guys doing the dock tooling and had them give us tolerances for the cable to pass through. We then discussed how to make the tools and what the cosmetic ID should look like. We then spent hours looking at cables of every shape, size and length – each with different characteristics in data handling, look, feel and overall performance. We then looked at the 3d drawings for first cosmetic ID for the ends but they were no good – so we started again.
This goes on and on and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks until we are happy with it. When you get the HDMI cable – it will just be an HDMI cable, as it should be, but you can rest assured that a couple of insane Brits sat in a factory in the middle of China at midnight obsessing about every tiny detail of its composition.
Meet our very own security guard who is protecting your GameStick controller production line as I write. She wears bright red stilettos and a peaked cap. She's a formidable lady and no-one messes with her. No-one.
One of the best aspects of working in China is that there are hundreds of boutique suppliers for almost everything you can imagine. We’ve been having an issue with Bluetooth communication between the GameStick and the Controller. This is in part a frequency issue (which creates lag) and partly a range issue.
We have spent many hours exploring the reasons – from changes to firmware, to different components, to antenna locations but each led to a different set of conclusions. So we spent a few days looking for an expert. This is the room that he lives in. That's him on the left. On the right is James – who is the guy running our Chinese operation. A wonderful man who is working his socks off for us all.
So we put the controller in this room for a few hours and ran a lot of different tests. We tried lots of antennas and slowly we began to see patterns and even more gradually we began to find solutions.
One issue was the location of the antenna. This meant that when you held the controller in a certain way it significantly weakened the signal. We were tempted to go down the Apple route of saying “you’re not holding it right” but in the end we opted to find a fix.
The operating parameters of Bluetooth are determined by a myriad of variables that we wont go in to here, suffice to say that we are looking for steady performance at a range of 7 meters in a normal environment. The solution most likely to deliver this is the first option with the separate chip antenna mounted on a separate PCB. The issue here is that the separate PCB occupies the same space used by the stick in the transport slot. So now we are looking at a flexible PCB solution, which is in progress.
Dock: We heard your comments about the HDMI and went through them again, but we believe it would be wrong to put in a function that the majority of people would find frustrating to use. Having a manual switch to toggle between only one input and output socket is a poor consumer proposition. It is something we can look at in the future if there is demand but it is not one for now. The Dock has 3 x USB (in fact it has 5 but one is used for Ethernet and the other for the SD card), power via a 2500 mAh power supply, Ethernet, controller charging and SD card storage as well as the Active Power Slot for GameStick. It's a great accessory.
Controller Tooling. This is progressing very well now and is about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. I know many of you have been frustrated by the delay and that you want your GameStick now, (we would also love to give it to you now) but the decision to go with high end tools is the right one. The first 6,000 controllers should be ready June 8th. We then need to wait for the GameSticks, which will be delivered slightly later (see below). Its wonderful to see the machines in action. I went to the factory with Tim, who is one of the great people in the team driving this project forward, helping to pull together its numerous threads. Here are some of the pictures that we took – and we will put up a video as soon as we can download it from the camera as the cables, (handmade no doubt), are in London.
Tim and I spent some time trying to work through how many parallel tasks are being managed to deliver this project – from working with games developers, to on boarding games, to sdk, to infrastructure set up and delivery, to development of the UI and UX testing, to business development and marketing to project management and software engineering across OS, Android and apps. From there to hardware engineering: processors, PCBs for the stick, the dock, the controller plus all of the components and sourcing for each of the 2,584 components; each capacitor, resistor, memory, MHL systems etc. Then to tooling and injection molding and on to the cables, plugs, packaging, assembly lines. Then the logistics for FCC and EMC testing, compliance and transport and ultimately shipping. Then we move to in-country logistics, more compliance, more shipping etc etc. Across this chain we are managing around 800 people, 24 separate companies (excluding shipping and supply) and at a very high level 4,789 separate tasks, each of which have sub tasks.
But...Here she is!!
This is the first GameStick off the production line. No: 00000001.
MHL, (the micro HDMI / MHL switch (at this size) is something that we invented), 8GB DDR, Bluetooth etc. Built using a 6 layer PCB with half-thru holes. This is no mean feat of engineering. It still has to go through EMC testing and until this is done we cannot be sure that this is an acceptable product – and so the PCB may need to change again, but we believe and hope not. However, until we are certain we cannot start the tooling for the housing so for the next week we are in a holding pattern. The timing is good however as its Labor day holiday here this week. Once we have the go ahead we will push hard on the GS tooling and I have the factory engaged to work insane hours to get it done quickly. However, just to re-iterate we do not expect this to affect the current target delivery dates.
UI. This continues to evolve. I have not seen the latest build yet and there will no doubt be a 100 features that we want to add that are currently not there yet, but this whole project has to be seen as a living platform – one that we iterate and innovate on until we create something that we all appreciate. I’m excited to see what the team in London and Poland have achieved over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been on the road.
Android 4.2 Where to start. The low level kernals are causing us all sorts of issues and we are struggling to get through the list of bugs to get this stable. I am pushing hard to make sure 4.2 is available at launch but as a plan B we may push on with 4.1 and then offer a firmware update via either a forced or optional upgrade. 4.2 has been built for a mobile ecosystem and there is a lot of work to do to make it acceptable for TV. It's a timing issue more than anything and we will crack the issues, but I cannot be certain when. We will continue to review this in the coming weeks and update you on the plan of attack, but just to be clear the only noticeable difference between 4.1 and 4.2 from our point of view is the support for Miracast – which is a key feature that we want to offer.
Hosting. This is a complex piece and we are still working through some of the dynamics. We currently serve a lot of smart TVs with games and use Amazon to host these services, however we are looking at the volume and costs and speed at which we can scale on that CDN and seeing if others offer a better all round service. I’ll be visiting Amazon to discuss in the coming days.
Packaging. Anthony has been driving this and our whole retail push with Stuart and Marco and Mike in tow. The packaging looks awesome. He’s spent hours opening and closing boxes to ‘feel’ the experience. When you open it for the first time give some thought to the hours and hours of effort he has put in to getting it right.
Designed by Me. The Designed by Me backers need to be able to assess the UI and how it performs with the controller and for that reason we need to wait for the Bluetooth antenna update – which is currently being done by hand in London and China. We expect this fix to be complete next week and will aim to ship mid week.
Dev Units. I took the decision to ship the Dev units because they were going to experienced game developers who should be used to getting prototype hardware. And that it is. Its pretty rough around the edges but at least it offers them something to code against. The antenna fix above should be retro fitted to the 250 SLA prototype controllers we have in China in the next 10 days and then we will send out a fresh batch.
Power supply: A bit like the cable company we found I guess. There are many many potential suppliers but the quality of the power supply and the certifications the manufacturers have are crucial. A lot of issues in CE devices are caused because of poor adapters and so we went through the process on this too. Without boring you on the details we again chose a small company. One managed by a good team, who smile and laugh a lot but who make great power supply units and nothing else.
That's it for now. I have left Tim in China. I am headed to the airport to the UK for 2 days and then to the US. The next update will be from the team as a whole, but I thought this more detailed and open review might be of interest to a few of you.
Tim and my whole team in London, Poland, US, Korea and China are doing an amazing job managing this. Taking a step back; delivering this project is not materially different to the challenge of delivering a fully-fledged traditional console business. Sure they will have bigger supply chains and bigger orders and the overall scale is in a different league but the complexity of the overall project is no different. Except that ours is being managed by a small team 25 great people - many of whom have worked with each other for years. This team has delivered major projects multiple times for some of the worlds largest companies such as Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Sony so it is well versed in project management and delivery.
The delay in delivering this project is not down at all to project management or decision making - it is down to how many people like the idea and the complexity of delivering a complex project in a manner that we are all proud to put our names to. So please stick with us. Without your support this all becomes rather pointless and whilst we cannot please all of you all the time I hope you see that my team is doing everything they can to deliver a great product – one that we’ll all enjoy using. Not only that, I hope that the plans we are now laying out will mean you become avid supporters for years to come.
You, like us, are the founders of this project and are helping to create a new wave of innovation in the console industry. I am as frustrated as you that we are a bit behind schedule but we are being 100% open with you about the issues we face and the mountains we climb. That openness is offered in the spirit of collaboration and a desire to share our journey with you.