This is going to be a lengthy post, so for those who don’t like extended reading, here’s a summary:
1. Gadgeteer won’t take over the world until its price is drastically reduced.
2. GHI is the flagship oh the whole Gadgeteer world, so everything that follows, is dedicated to GHI.
3. The price may be reduced by:
a) Less packaging.
b) Shipping in bubble envelopes.
c) Making OSH PCB’s 2-layer and using bigger, easily solderable parts.
d) Selling plain PCBs (for modules and mainboards)
e) Making a Gadgeteer shield for easily available Discovery board.
f) Using cheaper sensors and other components.
g) Giving away Gadgeteer socket break-outs.
And now, the rest of the text…
I was drinking the other day, and thinking while drinking. It’s now many weeks after the Medusa Kickstarter campaign, and is it just me with a bitter taste left? I mean… There are many *duino projects on Kickstarter and quite a large portion of them are insanely successful. Digispark — $330000+. Microduino — $134000. Hell, Gameduino — almost $40000. On the other hand, GameO — $9000+, Medusa has barely hit $7000… Take, for example, Microduino. A shrunk-down version of Arduino — cool, yes. Smaller, even cheaper, yet with all the drawbacks that Arduino has. Medusa — even smaller, even cheaper, with true enhancements attracts only $7000 (half of that probably coming from the Gadgeteer folks), twenty times less Microduino! Technically, Medusa Kickstarter campaign was successful, but I can bet guys from GHI expected a lot more.
Gadgeteer shares the same fate with Medusa, actually. How come a developing environment with the best GUI that exists in this part of galaxy lag so badly behind such a primitive Arduino? Everyone knows Arduino, everybody owns Arduino, everyone praises Arduino, while Gadgeteer, being superior in many ways, cries somewhere in the corner.
And then I realized: it The Price.
A real-life story 1. I was interviewing a candidate for our new programmer position. He had Arduino mentioned in his resume. I asked him — why Arduino? The answer was immediate: “because it’s frikin’ cheap!”.
What is cheap, a stranger might ask. So lets play some number games! A little disclaimer: all that follows doesn’t apply to lucky folks in USA. But if we want Gadgeteer to be a world-wide phenomenon, as Arduino is, we must address the issues that a guy like me, living in LTU, has to face. I believe the issues are more or less common across the whole EU:
a) If I buy anything above €20 (including shipping) from outside EU, I get robbed by the customs.
b) No online shop with cheap shipping (Mouser, GHI distributor, charges ~€50).
Lets compare dx.com (a very popular choice amongst hobbyists) and GHI web store (as the biggest and pretty much the only one for Gadgeteer stuff).
Comparison 1 — the simplest developing board: Arduino Uno vs. Cerberus. I can get Uno from dx.com for $12 (and free shipping!). Cerberus? $30 for the board, ~$12 shipping, ~$10 import duties (price is above $27), ~$10 charge-for-charging. Cerberus gets beaten badly $12:$62.
Ok, 12:62 sounds harsh, but maybe that’s just a coincidence? Lets compare some modules. Temperature is a popular choice to start playing with, so…
Comparison 2 — a simple temperature and humidity module. Gadgeteer: $23 for module+ ~$10 for shipping, +$20 import duties. $53 in total. And I can get a sensor doing the same thing for $3 from dx.com. $53 vs $3.
Comparison 3 — a barometer. GHI store: $74. dx.com: $8.
Shall I continue?..
If anyone is anxious already to say me that I’m comparing genuine high quality GHI products against Chinese counterfeits, I happily respond in advance: I couldn’t care less. I’m a hobbyist that wants to measure temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity. That’s it. I can have an Arduino system for $23 (heck, I can even smuggle that in one batch with getting robbed by the customs), or I can pay $189 for a Gadgeteer and starve for the rest of the month (or two, if I’m a student). For most newcomer hobbyists outside USA, the choice is obvious.
I guess you see my point by now already. There’s no way Gadgeteer could take over the world unless the entrance price is lowered drastically. Once one is in the NETMF world, he or she might pay more for modules considering how much time Visual Studio and managed environment saves compared to plain C++ programming. But if we consider a rookie wanting to enter this magic world of rapid prototyping, Gadgeteer is a no-no.
Here I’d like to stop whining and move to some constructive ideas of how to reduce the price. I mainly target GHI, as they are the flagship of the whole Gadgeteer. Here are a few areas that I think can be vastly improved:
Use simpler packaging. Now, every module, even the tiniest one, is packed into a re-sealable bag with a sticker. And if I order 5 modules of the same kind, I get 5 modules individually packed + all packed in one bigger bag + everything packed in a box. When a bunch of modules arrives from GHI, I always end up with a huge pile of packaging material, and a much, much smaller pile of the modules themselves. Guys from China use expanded polystyrene and duct tape — works for me! It’s cheaper, easier, and turns the package into an invincible thingy. Very useful.
Use bubble envelopes! Gadgeteer modules are soooo tiny, light and pretty much unbreakable. They fit into bubble envelopes just perfectly. Worrying about losing them? Worry not. I buy a lot of stuff, and receive a lot of goods packaged this way. I have never, ever had any problems. In my experience, US postal service is the best in the world, and the best by far (in contrast, UK postal service is by far the worst). Usually, shipping the package from USA to LTU takes about the same amount of time as to reclaim the package from LT post once in lands on our soil. And I’ve checked at USPS website: it would be ~$3. Makes a huge difference compared to your boxes costing $10-20 to ship. HUGE difference. This shipping also has another side-effect, at least in LTU: it is less suspicious for customs. It is widely accepted here that you can’t put anything expensive in such an envelope. So even if the package costs more than $27, it has a very reasonable chance to pass uncharged. It happened to me many times. On the other hand, if it’s a nice rectangular box — be ready for trouble. I know, GHI stated a few times that they want some kind of insurance so their products are always received, but PLEASE LET THE BUYER DECIDE THIS. Trust me, bubble envelopes works just fine. If the package is lost (which never happens), I could order the same goods again — this will still be cheaper.
Make Cerberus, Spider and other PCBs two-layer, not four-layer ones. Very recently I ordered 10 Spider PCBs from the fab (I have a few spare EMXs rusting, so I decided to use them for teaching). That cost me ~$170. Just because they are 4-layer boards, the manufacturing price was doubled or tripled. Kchchchem, guys? 4 layers for a board holding 6 resistors and a DIP switch? Sure, there are plenty of sockets and signals to route, might be tricky, but I think a larger 2-layer PCB would be a much better solution than a super-mega-cool-hi-tech 4 layer board.
Sell bare PCBs. Many (actually, all of them) Arduino enthusiasts I know actually can solder a PCB by themselves. I can buy MCU, resistors and sockets at my local electronics shops, but I cannot get the PCB there. Those are the hardest part to obtain. So why not selling them? Those would be extremely cheap and easy to ship. All we need is just a few adaptations: 2 layers instead of 4 (cheaper to make), no bottom silkscreen (cheaper to make), 1206-sized resistors (easier to get, easier to solder), 2.54 pitch DIP switches (vastly more abundant, but maybe not a big deal. Jumpers would work fine, too), maybe through-hole sockets (easier to solder), and maybe green color (much cheaper to make, not sure if Gadgeteer specification allows this for motherboards). I can give my left hand to cut off: soldering a bare Cerberus PCB would be a No1 option in LTU. Besides, it’s so much fun By the way, dx.com sells bare Arduino boards. For $4.
I would also like to see bare boards for modules, especially sensors, because they are used in larger quantities than other modules. Maybe even a starter kit: temperature, pressure, humidity, light and other sensor PCB on a single panel, which I could break apart by myself. I would certainly go for a few!
Sell unassembled/assembled shields for Discovery board. Discovery board is VERY easy to get. I can go to my electronics shop and buy one just right now for ~$27. Ebay is full of them, too. With minor modifications, it becomes a full-featured Cerberus! It would be a shame to not use this for our advantage. All it needs is a Gadgeteer socket shield: a PCB for $4 and eight sockets for $6. Unassembled would be my preference.
Revise sensor modules. Sensors are a popular and obvious way to start from. I can get a DS18B20 for $1, yet you sell Seeed module for $23. Sure, SHT11 is a very nice sensor, no doubt about it, but a beginner does not need it. He or she needs something cheap, not an industrial-grade sensor that, for example, we put in our industrial laser systems. DS18B20, DHT21, BMP085 — these and many others are very popular and cheap sensors, so why don’t we have Gadgeteer modules for them?..
Give away Gadgeteer socket break-outs. They are the only thing in Gadgeteer hardware that is truly cheap and useful. Add one for every mainboard you ship.
I understand some of these options are not profitable and requests trade-offs. But hey, it’s Arduino, that is popular, not Gadgeteer. If we want (and we do want, right?) Gadgeteer to fly off, some sacrifices have to be made.
A real life story 2. I was doing a hand-on seminar on Gadgeteer. The start was a bit slow as none of the students had experience in Visual Studio and C#, but half an hour later coding was in full swing: modules were being connected and disconnected, tunes module was playing Ode to Joy, and ID number of their RFID cards for dorms were deciphered. I didn‘t actually expect this but they truly dived into it. When I said it’s time to finish, it was like one big “ohhhh, five more minutes!..”. Then we’ve started talking about the prices. This module costs this much, that mainboard that much. Their noses went down immediately…