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Making Gadgeteer and NETMF truly affordable


#1

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 :slight_smile: 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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?..

  7. 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…


#2

@ Simon from Vilnius - To add to your list on how to reduce the price:

h) more competition

Couple more players and price will go down I am sure of it. The problem is that there is not much demand for Gadgeteer as is. So there is barely enough room for one player.


#3

@ Simon from Vilnius - I think you calculated shipping multiple times for your Temp Humidity Barometer sample.
So it’s still more expensive, but not that much.

There are quite a lot of European online shops like Watterott who charge low or no shipping. You might not get all GHI Products at one shop so you have to place multiple orders, but if shipping is free: who cares.
You can find a list of European distributors on the GHI online catalog (button just above the category selection).

About 2 vs. 4 Layer PCB’s.
We designed a custom G120 based board.
1st we tried with 2 layers. It would have got extreme huge, with many many (how do you call these metal lay interconnects?).
Also for high frequency signals you always should have a ground potential on the other layer, which reduces the usable number of layers to 1 in some areas of the PCB.
So even it might be cheaper to use 2 Layer PCB, they get bigger and probably less reliable for SPI, USB, Ethernet and other ‘fast’ signals.

But generally I agree with your arguments: Cheaper would be better, but not if it costs reliability, which is way more important for commercial use.


#4

We all like cheaper but our parts are made in USA and are well made. I am not sure where we would find a fair comparison on price. One example maybe the kits from arduino, that ship with very very simple LEDs/buttons and it was $250 I think!! For that price, you will get a much better value from GHI.

If you are comparing to breakout boards coming from eBay then yes they are cheaper but that is a very unfair comparison. Our cable probably cost more :slight_smile: So why don’t we just make breakout board and make them cheap? Because we are here to make things easier and to still provide quality. Our goal is not to be the lowest cost but be the better option.

Same for shipping, we will continue to do quality shipping even if it costs few dollars more.

That said, volumes change our cost and then it changes your cost. We have lowered prices on many products already and we will continue to do so in the future.


#5

Here it is http://store.arduino.cc/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=133


#6

But that’s 113$+Tax, not 250$ !?


#7

@ Reinhard Ostermeier - correct?


#8

Shipping from GHI scales with the price, so the more you buy, the more you pay. For example, my last order was $1500 + $190 for shipping. Before this one, I payed $410 for the goods, $80 for the shipping.

Last time I checked they were not very inspiring. Will checking, perhaps something has changed?..

Gadgeteer is not about commercial users, it’s about hobbyists. Commercial users design their own PCBs as they see fit. That’s what you do, that’s what we do, that’s what hobbyists do not do. Their stuff rarely work in harsh environments, so hardware reliability?.. Mehhh!


#9

All electronics hardware I buy from China are all perfectly well made. Especially sensor modules, that are sooo simple that it’s really hard to make them wrong…

On the other hand, I have a faulty ENC28 module, a faulty compass module, a damaged G120 module, a dead EMX dev board that died by simply rusting on the shelf, and a CP7 that once arrived broken from Mouser (we’ve got a new one later). I know GHI would replace the ENC28 and compass modules if I sent it back, but I simply do not have time for that (when you are a company, things are not that easy and requires some paperwork) and that doesn’t change the fact: GHI electronics are not an exception, they too have quality problems as everyone else.

So quality is a very relative term here…

I do not say sell breakout boards. But exchanging industrial-grade SHT11 for DHT21 would lower the costs of temperature module by some $15. It would still measure temperature and humidity! Same applies to barometer. Put BMP085 instead of HP03M, and the price is halved.

It’s not what costs a few dollars more. Your shipping model doubles/triples the price for the poor hobbyist, that doesn’t sink $200 in hardware (even then, various taxes inflates the cost by ~40%). Not everyone in the world is rich enough for that.


#10

Do we want Gadgeteer to compete with Arduino? If so, I think we should all first do something and create those volumes. I do not believe this will happen in the next 5 years with current pricing model…


#11

@ Simon from Vilnius - What’s killing you is the Customs and Shipping. What you need to do is become a Politician and change the rules or move to the US. Just kidding.


#12

or convince Gus to move to Lithuania. :wink:


#13

You guys have no idea how envious I am of your point of view to buying and selling goods :slight_smile: One can buy online pretty much everything in US. I can’t buy anything I need in Europe. That truly sucks. It looks like europeans like protesting much more than building something…


#14

That’s not about me or him — I can buy anything I want :wink: It’s about the world and Gadgeteer taking over it :wink:


#15

Just to rub it in. :wink:

I love my Amazon Prime 2-day free shipping.


#16

2-day is prime? In Germany this is normal shipping (Except X-Mas time).
And above 20€ Amazon has always free shipping here. :whistle:


#17

@ Reinhard Ostermeier - Lets not compare sizes :wink: You will loose. :wink:


#18

GHI’s ENC28 module: $20 [1] (Note: as of 8/11/2015, the current price is $14.95)

eBay ENC28 module: $5 shipped, plus my adapter, $7 or so shipped, depending on where to (includes Gadgeteer socket and 5x2 header). [2]

Just sayin’, there’s options. GHI’s ENC28 module was originally $30, and they lowered the price, I believe, in response to my adapter board (though I have no evidence for that).

If someone were to release a cheap temp board, I would guess that GHI would adjust their prices to compensate. All this is, however, somewhat, biting the hand that feeds the Gadgeteer world. At some point, GHI can’t compete anymore, and they get out of the game.

Also, using a 1-wire temperature sensor makes a mockery of the Gadgeteer system, as well, by wasting a whole lot of I/O and potentially peripherals. That’s a Gadgeteer failing, though, not a pricing model issue. One major problem with Gadgeteer itself from a pricing standpoint is that it requires the use of extremely expensive (and hobbyist-unfriendly) cables and connectors.

[1] https://www.ghielectronics.com/catalog/product/333
[2] http://3ln.org/Store#!/~/product/category=0&id=14679687


#19

I don’t have a pricing issue with GHI Gadgeteer products. I find the prices to be fair, considering the software and support provided.

I don’t think that increased success of Gadgeteer depends upon price reductions. Anyone who knows MF and Gadgeteer understands its price value story. Reducing the price will not open the flood gates to new advocates.


#20

Sadly, US guys are either deaf or making jokes of a serious issue. Including Gus.

But, let’s talk about this in 5 years and see if your stubbornness or the global maker movement is winning this.

I love Gadgeteer and netmf but would love it even more if there where more than 5 users in Denmark.