Now manufacturing is well under way on the Gemini PDA, some people have been asking questions about why it seems to be a slow process. In the past I was lucky to be able to talk to Panos Panay, the corporate vice president for Surface Computing at Microsoft, about this very subject. While I’m not implying that all electronics manufacturing works in the same way, or that this is even how manufacturing for the Gemini is undertaken, it’s a great insight into the process of delivering innovative new devices to thousands of eager customers.
During the development process for the Gemini, there have been three or four prototype stages in manufacturing. The first produced a non-working model, the next produced models where the computer worked, but the keyboard didn’t, then fully working prototypes including those taken to CES in Las Vegas in January 2018.
During each stage of prototyping, bugs and problems are ironed out in the design and manufacturing process. As an example, the CES models were found to have a keyboard that was sticky on one side, and soft on the other.
Now full manufacturing has begun there are still some challenges to overcome. The first of these is the familiarity of the factory workers with the product, and how it is assembled. This inevitably slows manufacturing for the first few days while they get used to the parts and process.
The next challenge is that all of the units from the first few days, or even the first couple of weeks of production need to be rigorously and thoroughly tested. This is to find any last minute bugs or problems that may exist, or to discover any manufacturing processes that could be improved. As part of this process each unit needs to be tested fully working for a period of a few days. This tests the stability of the device, as well as the safe operation of components such as the processor and battery. We all remember what happened with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 after all.
You then need to couple this with the fact with while companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung can afford to take control of an entire factory for mass production of devices, a startup such as Planet Computers will only be able to afford a small manufacturing staff , which was reflected in the photos the company posted last week.
This all means that right now there are probably only twenty Gemini units being manufactured per day, which could be slowed further by the available capacity of soak testing and flashing equipment. Ultimately, there will be a maximum unit manufacturing capacity the factory can support per day or week, something that was widely reported to plague Apple’s iPhone X in its early days.
This all fits with Planet Computers saying that backers will still be receiving their units into April of this year. As production ramps up, only one in ten units is tested, then one in a hundred and eventually only one in every thousand units is extensively soak tested. I hope this answers some questions for you on how quality control is an essential, and a very time-consuming part of the process.
Eventually though the aim is to ensure that all delivered units are of the highest quality and standards, and that they will work reliably for many years to come.