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To our supporters,
Backpacking taught me many things about the bare essentials and traveling light. Tearing out relevant sections of guidebooks was common, but it was crushing my phone's display hiking that had me question the needs of technology in tough environments.
Earl started life as a keyboard that changed characters dynamically with Eink. Over time, sensors and radios were added, and my focus switched to developing a device tailored for the outdoors. We envisioned a two-way radio as easy to use as your smartphone, but we didn’t anticipate the complexities of integrating components largely absent from today’s electronics. I made it my objective to make sure every feature functioned as promised, but it wasn’t until the momentum slowed that it became clear we had wasted resources and overshot our runway. If we do not simplify, Earl will fail, so we are pivoting our efforts to focus on the features that actually worked. Aside from wifi and bluetooth, all other radios have been removed from our design.
We assume combining multiple functions into a single product makes it more efficient, but should leading functions fail, reliant functions do as well. Nice-to-have features better work as expected if they’re ever needed. Design should improve functionality, but also have a clear purpose. Earl’s purpose is about improving guidebooks and navigation.
Their simplicity makes printed books and maps ideal for the outdoors, but digital content allows users the flexibility to carry entire collections anywhere they go. By adding dynamic elements, Earl can bring tremendous value to print. We had already been working on a platform for publishers to adapt their content to Earl, so this is not an entirely new direction. Guidebooks and maps should be one and the same. Imagine being able to search for trails, plants, animals or even survival methods relevant to your location based on the books in your library. Guidebooks can pull real-time data regarding trail conditions or closures, and when offline can accurately assist in navigation or alert users to an approaching storm. And as more users interact, content progressively improves.
While it’s becoming more common to download guides to a phone before heading outdoors, there are still drawbacks. Traditional devices are difficult to view in direct sunlight and can require a significant amount of energy to operate, especially when triangulating your position outside of your network. Eink displays are bi-stable; micro-beads of black and white pigments physically change orientation when charged by the circuit beneath, thus reflecting light similar to print. This provides users with a more comfortable reading experience compared to lcds. Additionally, constant power is not required to display static images, so an Eink system can sleep to conserve it’s battery. Combined with low-power, but highly accurate GPS, motion and environmental sensors, Earl becomes a valuable tool for a wide array of outdoor activities.
Earl’s remaining hardware, applications and interface are being adapted. Additional tools will be built as we grow, but what we release needs to work as expected, so we must focus on one feature at a time. This idea is still great and it is something we can actually build. Simplifying will lower production costs and allow for a single device to be offered in multiple markets, minimizing risk. But additional capital and market validation will be necessary to proceed, so we must refine our plan to encourage investors to look past the mud and fund our next approach.
We have an obligation to keep backers informed and deliver on what we promised. This may not be the device you signed up for, so we need to figure out an acceptable compensation. It will take time, but we will push forward until every backer is satisfied with the outcome. In the meantime, please take a moment to give us your feedback by filling out the survey at the link below.