You Can’t Just Phone In Your Mechanicals

6th May 2024
5 min read

An OTA won't make your design problems go away.

No Man's Sky, Cyberpunk 2077, Skull and Bones. All these games have something in common.

The sucked on launch.

In what seems to be a trend in the game industry, large games publishers are abusing their reputation to release games that are devastatingly undercooked on release.

The most recent example, Skull and Bones, had Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot famously calling the game the first "AAAA" game. It turned out barely to have a single A, let alone four of them.

The trend has reached a point it seems where the general public has had enough. Other than the eight streamers that bought the game, the public didn't even get mad at Skull and Bones. Instead it become immortalised in meme culture.

That's not to say that games launched on life support should be declared dead on arrival. With enough updates, No Man's Sky and Cyberpunk 2077 both went on to be actually good games. I own both and went on to spend hundreds of hours (330 to be exact) in NMS because of its chill building and spacefaring.

Blockbuster game titles of the past didn't have that luxury. As soon as the cartridge/card/disc shipped, that was the limit of the publisher's reach. They couldn't do anything more about it. The game had to be dialled on release.

The problem today, from a consumer's perspective, is that the Internet has enabled this ship-now-fix-later approach because every device we own is now connected (not just every device, but every bit of software, every bit of content).

Game devs can just phone in an update as necessary, when necessary.

You don't get what you paid for at launch. But maybe, maybe, you might get it at some stage in the future.

Pinky promise.

Ship-Now-Fix-Later Infects Physical Products

Cue the Humane AI Pin and the Rabbit R1.

Both of these ai-assistant devices released recently, to damning reviews (here, here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, both devices have also taken the ship-now-fix-later approach pioneered by the large game studios.

Both devices are connected and heavily cloud-dependant. It's likely both companies were also lax with what needed to be ready at launch. As Dave2D pointed out, possibly to get into the market before the Apple and Google launch events coming soon. They knew they could devices out now, and pushed the updates out later.

Further, because both devices are effectively thin clients back to their respective servers, it's likely they won't even need to push anything. Just do an update server-side.

It's quite arrogant, really.

As result, both have entered the market woefully underdone. It might even kill these companies.

If I was a betting man (I'm not), I would say Humane is on deathwatch, but Rabbit might make it if they can get their updates out fast enough.

You Can't Phone In Your Mechanicals

One thing you can't update server-side is your mechanical design.

Aesthetics aside, the mechanical design on both devices is excellent. Ignoring the lack of repairability, iFixit's teardown video on both shows some seriously clean design and execution of the physical components and assembly.

Granted, the quality and materials is different for each, but each have been designed to hit their respective price point. The cute little messages printed inside the AI Pin are delightful. Even the cheaper R1 to my eye looks very well designed and built.

I'm a fan of the aesthetic too, but granted, I'm also an 80's child.

If the hardware was executed as poorly as the software, it's quite likely both companies would be DOA.

Even the smallest update to mechanicals can take months to make, and cost many thousands of dollars. And short of a [very expensive] recall there's no way to update the devices already shipped. Just ask Tesla how they know.

You have to get your mechanicals dialled before you ship. You can't phone it in.

Fortunately, the process is simple:

Prototype often, test oftener.

Prototyping and testing are the only ways to validate your design meets your user's needs, and change the design if it doesn't.

The earlier you make changes to the design too, the faster and cheaper those changes are to make:

  • A change made on paper is effectively free.
  • A change made to a block model could cost $10
  • A change made to a proof of concept could cost $100
  • A change made during usability testing could cost $1000
  • A change made during tooling could cost $10000
  • And a change made after shipping could cost $100000

By being thorough with prototyping and testing, even at the cost of a delayed shipping date, will make for a better product at launch and could save you buckets of cash.

As Mark Callaghan from Atamo said to me just this week:

"Haste makes waste".

Design Can't Save Everything

As we've seen with the AI Pin and R1, perhaps unfortunately, is a strong mechanical design can give life-support to a software product that should otherwise have been non-viable. However, even the great mechanical execution of both devices likely won't save them from garbage bin.

Time will tell if the software can catch up.

There's no greater waste than resources converted to product that go directly into landfill because they suck.

Afterthought: What Giveth, Also Taketh Away

As a slight diversion to the main topic, one thing of note about the AI Pin is their business model. At launch the Pin itself is US$699, and also requires a US$24/mo subscription.

While it makes an expensive proposition with limited utility, having a permanent and essential connection to the Internet has several other notable caveats.

The obvious one is that if you're locked into their device and their ecosystem, what stops them from jacking up the subscription price? What stops them from doubling it? Tripling it?

If you don't pay, you're locked out of the Humane servers and you end up with a very expensive paperweight. At what point do you choose to forsake your investment because it's too expensive to maintain?

Worse, and equally likely, is that these companies cease trading. Their servers are shut off. And through no decision of your own, you no longer have the thing you paid for.

Anything you buy that is connected to the Internet, you should assume will be taken away from you.

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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