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Subject: How to get them to manufacture for us: An idea and a draft
From: David H. Straayer (mail_at_dhstraayer.com)
Date: 2004-03-21


Ok, several of you have taken to the idea of soliciting Asian
manufacturers to make players for Rockbox.

My idea is this: let's work on a magazine article for placement
in design magazines in Asia. The article is likely to welcomed
by the editors of these magazines, and it will get to the target
audience we'd like to reach.

I've done a (very crude) first draft of such an article, below.
Let's pass it around and comment on it. I'll dredge through my
old notes, and Google around to try to find placement for it.

What do you think?

David H. Straayer
916.729.4954
mail_at_dhstraayer.com

Draft follows:

Title: Open-source Comes to Consumer Electronics

Open-source software has had a substantial impact on the
computer market, but has not yet had much impact on the consumer
electronics market.

That may be about to change.

An international team of open-source software writers has
entirely re-written, from the “ground up”, a new set of firmware
called “Rockbox” for a popular hard-disk-based MP3 player, the
Archos. Actually, the team has come up with versions of the
firmware for several different models of the Archos.

Hard-disk based MP3 players are becoming very popular, with
Apple’s IPod being a smash hit. Apple is well known for
innovative and user-friendly products, and their proprietary
approach has enabled them to maintain higher margins than the
norm for the electronics industry. Of course, those higher
margins translate into higher prices for the consumer.

Software in consumer electronics
As consumer electronics products get increasingly complex,
software/firmware plays an increasing part in their design. But
the skills necessary for software and user interface design are
different from the skills necessary for high-volume manufacture.
This has lead to a dichotomy between “design houses” and
“manufacturing specialists”, the latter primarily on the Pacific
Rim.

This means that the manufacturing specialists often had to team
up with other companies, who supply designs, software, and
marketing for their products. This meant smaller margins for
the manufacturers.

But the open-source movement and the Internet may be changing
all that. In order to put a hot hard-disk-based MP3 player on
the market, it is now possible to design to a standard
hardware-software interface, load free open-source software on
the product, and sell it via Internet, or small distributors in
target markets.

Advantages of the open-source approach
Here are some of the key advantages of this approach:
1. No software/firmware development costs. Obviously a big plus
2. No worry about costly bug fixes and firmware support. As
long as the product is based on a re-writable store, like flash
memory or hard disk, the only code that needs to be “rock solid”
is the “boot loader” that gets the firmware in place and
running. The open-source community will ensure t hat the
software is maintained.
3. Allows manufacturing specialists to focus on what they do
best: mechanical and electrical design for low-cost, miniature
consumer products of high value.
4. Evolving user-interface design produces better products. It
is tough to get those pesky user interface issues designed
right. But the open source community is always thinking about
alternatives, trying them, rejecting some, and accepting the
best. The product design “grows” naturally, like a biological
system.
5. Access to specialized markets via special enhancements. For
example, Rockbox supports a wide range of languages, from
Afrikaans and Chinese through Hebrew and Polish to Turkish and
Wallisertitsch. This sort of customization is expensive to
develop. It opens markets that would otherwise be far too
expensive to enter.
6. Major innovations. Rockbox now supports a full “talking”
user interface that allows it to serve sigh-impaired (blind)
customers at far less cost than products designed exclusively
for them.

How to design a product to use open-source software

1. The first thing to do is to find an open-source team with a
software base appropriate for the product you want to build.
For example, if you would like to manufacture hard-disk based
MP3 players, the Rockbox team at
http://cool.haxx.se/mailman/listinfo/rockbox could get you
started. If you have other software-intensive consumer
electronics projects in mind, you could post messages on
electronic bulletin boards for similar open-source projects and
ask for volunteers.
2. When you contact folks who are willing to write or adapt code
for your product, ask them about the necessary hardware
interface details. They’ll be glad to share with you what you
need to know to design your product. They probably will even be
happy to provide some preliminary schematics, and review the
changes you need to make for your manufacturing plans.
3. Share with them what you are doing. This community hates the
“dreaded NDA word” that is so much a part of proprietary design.
You want to listen to what they have to say about hardware
features that are useful or unnecessary. They will be delighted
to suggest enhancements that can make your product better.
4. Identify key members of this team and negotiate with them for
their willingness to support your product. They won’t be
working for you, so you have to trust that they will have
firmware ready to ship with your product. Obviously, the closer
you product is to existing designs, the safer this will be. But
the open-source community is much more reliable than you might
think at first. If they make a promise, they will keep it.
5. Be prepared to send them prototypes and manufactured units to
these developers. They have been spending money out of their
own pocket to buy products; they will be delighted to get
“freebies” in exchange for their efforts. Believe me, this will
cost a whole lot less than hiring software teams for pay.
In short
This is a great way to get profitable and innovative products to
the market and the bottom line. All you sacrifice is the
proprietary nature of the products, but that has already been
typically “owned” by the overseas design teams anyway.

{pictures of Archos, IPod, and Rockbox screens are in order.,
perhaps other contacts, etc.}

                #END#

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