There is a new update posted. we're getting close...
August 10th, 2014
ABC, August: Begin certification!This time last year, I was certain I would be spending my summer on the trail with both Earl’s by my side. Updates sound like a broken record I’m sure. Each time, another delay. The last instance where we provided a public visual of our progress was just under a year ago. Ever since we’ve struggled to present a proper timeline that accurately estimates the completion and fulfillment of orders. We’ve faced numerous challenges and delays. Managing a project of this scale and budget requires coordination of all our team members. I can’t thank them enough for all the work they’ve put in. Unfortunately we’ve still got a few hurdles left. Before I dive in to the details, please take a look at our current timeline for reference. When we posted a timeline last August we presented the information given to us by our hardware partner. We were definitely being optimistic, we pushed and pushed, but many components to development are reliant upon each other. Currently we are just finishing up Hardware development. The last iteration was around 99% complete. This final revision is all about adjustments, including revising the design of our touch panel. The major issue we have been facing with our touch panel is the FPC that connects it to the board. The touch panel would disconnect from the board, requiring us to disassemble and reconnect. This became more apparent as we brought more units into the wild. Particularly the ones that we sent to our software development team in India. A revised version was expected by the end of this coming week, however Friday our team mentioned that it will now be ready on the 23rd. Our walkie talkie module arrived as expected, however upon installation, we realized the volume out on the the unit was not being fully amplified. We were lucky to have a meeting with the radio manufacturer to discuss this issue as well as production and since then we’ve had pleased with our communication with them. They immediately started working on a fix and sent us a replacement that we have in our office now. Since major adjustments have been completed we can finally begin tooling. Tooling is about four phases, the first being around 6 weeks, with additional phases of around 2 weeks each. This is big news. From here there can be NO MORE CHANGES! The tooling facility will be assessing our design over the coming week and should everything check out, we’ll begin the following week. If the touch panel issues are resolved, we can finally go to certification. Pre-testing is underway, however a few details have presented themselves as we start to define the list of required certifications for each region. Previously we had done our research for the FCC, but since testing each region separately can be costly, we decided to certify all at once. We ran into a couple roadblocks, we decided to pull support for these PMR446 in Europe. CE only allows radios with 0.5w power with an integral antenna, voice only and no data. These requirements sort of kill communication the features of Earl. So for Europe we’re still releasing a VHF/UHF (2m/70cm) radio, however take note, users are required to be licensed. For Australia and New Zealand, Earl will be available in two editions, a UHFCB radio, open to anyone without a license as well as the VHF/UHF variant which again would require operators to be licensed. For the USA and Canada we’ll be releasing both a Part 90 certified VHF/UHF radio for licensed amateur radio operators as well as a Part 95a GMRS version for the use by the public. Officially, per FCC rules, GMRS does not allow data transmissions. However there has been some adjustments made for existing radios that meet certain requirements and waivers have been granted. Specifically the Rino line of GPS enabled radios by Garmin. GMRS radios that wish to transmit F2D data are limited to text and GPS messages over the 462 mhz bands. Though there is no guarantee that we can receive the same waiver, I spent the last week going back and forth with our testing facility discussing possible options. We plan to test for the MURS frequencies as a backup, that way we can still release a public version of Earl in the USA and Canada. All units, no matter the region, will be locked to their respective firmware. Current backers will have the chance to pick the region of choosing prior to fulfillment of preorders. If all goes well, and certification actually starts on time, we expect Earl to be officially legal for sale around the beginning of November. Coincidentally that’s about the time our final tooling phase is completed as well. While certification gives us the green light to go to market and release Earl into the wild, we need to run a pilot production run. During the last tooling phase, we’ll be running a quick sample of 100 pieces. Depending on the status of certification, we may end up sending a few of these units out to backers that meet licensing requirements and/or reviewers around the globe to test and provide feedback of any issues in the final version. Theses are units are basically ready to ship, however being the first units off the production line, minor adjustments to the assembly process may be needed so we’ve left some time to optimize the process to ensure mass production goes off without a hitch. Being that hardware is essentially complete. I took the opportunity to fly out to Delhi to meet with our software development team. They’ve been working hard to get all the features we need integrated into our application. They’ve been given demo units to play with, however the same issues we faced with our touch panel has plagued a couple of the units. I’m here to make sure units are working properly as well as update them with firmware that enables some of the API’s used for the walkie talkie. My hardware team mentioned that Kit Kat should be ready sometime later this week. I’m also here to discuss some changes to the interface. With so many features available offline, Earls UX really needs simplicity, so we spent the better part last week running through some new designs to test out. This week I’ll be meeting with the other half of the team working on the developer portal, which includes an App Store for EInk ready applications, games and media. We want users to have a seamless experience. Originally we planned to switch our website over to Shopify with Zendesk for customer support. Though we may still, we’re going to be discussing the possibility of integrating our main page, shop, help desk, forum, map/app server and user accounts into a single product. I don’t want the project to get more complicated than it already is, so we’ll take a good look at potential scenarios and budgets and choose the most suitable option. I’m here until Thursday evening, then fly back to Hong Kong to meet again with our hardware team before heading home to Seattle next week so I can enjoy a few weeks testing Earl in the alpine meadows of the North Cascades. We’re wrapping up development, but work doesn’t stop there. One of the big reasons I’m headed to the states is to prep for funding this fall. Since we originally ran our campaign, we done virtually zero marketing. The idea was to finish the project before taking on additional sales. Our initial order for production is around 5,000 units, preorders so far amount to a bit less than half. Though we plan to hire a team to start promoting our product to retailers, we’ve been toying with the idea of running a second round of crowdfunding through Kickstarter. With Earl certified and ready to go, this could be a huge boost in the number of sales for us and publicity as well as help us some additional funds for future development and support. In addition we’ve spoken with a few VC’s but have held off taking major investment until we had a final unit to showcase. The plan is to initiate a round of funding this coming October. Though Earl is a niche product, there’s definitely a market for a tablet that connects the offline world. We’ve made a lot of promises, some features have changed and delays have been numerous, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’re getting close, if all goes well, we’re very confident that every backer will have their unit in hand before the holidays. We cannot express our gratitude for your patience during the last year and a half, THANK YOU!