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Published May 31, 2018

The Gemini PDA launched early in 2017 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to much acclaim and fanfare.  It easily passed its original funding goal and ultimately raised more than $2 Million, ensuring around five and a half thousand Gemini units shipped to excited backers.  As I write this, the final backer units have been produced, and are beginning the journey to the international distributors in the UK and Hong Kong.

I doubt that anybody would argue that for a version 1 product, crowdfunding was the correct approach for Planet to take.  The big crowdfunding platforms offer some security and reassurance, especially over a product funded entirely through the manufacturer’s own website.  This doesn’t stop problems occurring and even I lost £1,000 on smart luggage purchased through Kickstarter which, more than two years later, has still not arrived.

But what of the problems associated with a crowdfunded campaign.  These all came to light when Gemini manufacturing began.

Manufacturing

The Chinese company making the Gemini insisted that things were done a certain way.  All the 4G units had to be manufactured before any of the Wi-Fi only units were made.  This immediately caused problems, with some Wi-Fi only customers being early backers.  This inevitably meant they would receive their own units at the very end, just before commercial sales began.

The keyboard offered additional challenges, with the factory insisting that the most popular (UK, US, and Japan) were all made and finished before any of the smaller quantity variants.  Inevitably, international variant keyboards would have been bought by some early backers, who again, would receive their units last.

The gold plating for the 30 limited edition Geminis also presented challenges that meant some of those units would, you guessed it, have been delivered last.

Enthusiasm

There were problems on the backer side as well however.  It’s very common in these days of modern consumerism for people to adopt a “get it now” mentality.  As a society we’re used to instant gratification, be that people liking your posts on Facebook, responding immediately to your chat thread on WhatsApp, or free next day deliveries of just about anything from Amazon Prime.

It was perhaps easier for older Gemini backers, the people who had used Psion palmtop computers in their youth, to wait for the Gemini to be manufactured and delivered.  This is the generation who grew up with mail order catalogues, and standard 30-day delivery periods.  They’d also waited more than 15 years for a new Psion, and with the future looking so bleak until the Gemini campaign launched, what was a few months more?

Younger backers, and those backers for whom the Gemini was their first crowdfunding project and for whom crowdfunding was a new experience, inevitably became impatient far more quickly.  Deadlines slipped, issues arose such as the ones presented by the factory, and tempers sometimes began to flare.

The Small Team

It wasn’t helped by the Gemini team initially being just three people, and staying that way for much of the design and manufacturing process.  It’s a major job producing a new and innovative piece of technology and we often forget that the biggest innovators, Samsung, Microsoft, and companies such as Huawei, have whole departments just to design new products, and more departments to oversee production.

Planet Computers had none of this, nor the funding with which to quickly expand.  This inevitably led to problems with manpower, resources, and communication.  It’s often been said that the communication from Planet was choppy and infrequent, a direct consequence of the small size of the team.  It would be all too easy for backers to forget this however; you’re used to dealing with a “company”, and these have staff, managers, and departments… don’t they?

Designing in the Open

Probably the most significant issue to hit production of the Gemini though, was an inevitable by-product of going down the crowdfunding route, that of having to design, develop, and manufacture a product entirely in the open.  When the major tech companies announce new products, it’s normally because they’re finished, or at least only a couple of months away from launch.

Planet had to start at the very beginning, deal with only being a small team and the inevitable resource issues that brings, and still try to keep backers excited and informed throughout the process.  I doubt you would have ever found somebody who had sought crowdfunding who found that process either easy or enjoyable.

The Lessons

Planet are in a good position now with the Gemini.  It’s unique, has no competition, a clear use case, and those who would want it are likely to know that straight away.  When Gemini v2 comes around, it’s entirely possible that going down the crowdfunding route might not be necessary.

The company has also grown in size, from three people to five.  This is still tiny when compared to the competition, but it’s a significant help when it comes to developing a new product, while still also supporting an existing one.

Setting expectations, and regularly communicating with backers is always crucial however.  Communication was the number one complaint, and Planet know this.  Coupled with the experience of producing new tech from scratch, and being able to reuse some of what they already have, it would be much easier the second time around.

This all depends on the success of the Gemini.  The anger and frustration has stayed with backers, impatient for delivery of the device they’ve spent so many hundreds on.  My own feeling however is that frustration and anger will very quickly fade once all backers have received their units in a few weeks from when I write this, and these backers will quickly start evangelising about the product both online and offline.

Was it Worth It?

So was it worth developing the Gemini in the way Planet chose to?  This individual would say “absolutely, yes”.  The $2 Million in funding could never have been achieved without a platform such as Indiegogo, and the reach would have been tiny, threatening the Gemini, and the future of the company.

The Gemini is actually one of the better crowdfunding products in recent years.  There are still far too many that fail to complete, or that provide products of low quality.  Planet Computers Ltd set the bar high, stuck to their principles and should be commended for this.  Only time will tell what the future holds, but it’s much brighter now than anybody could have predicted.

 

10 Comments

  1. John Davies John Davies

    I backed the project because for years I’ve wanted a modern equivalent of my old Psion 5. Was it an agonising wait – absolutely! Was it worth it – 100%. Would I back a version 2 – immediately. Am I grateful to the PC team – immensely!

    For me, the only bad experience has been the pointless griping of some of the backers – this isn’t the same as buying an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, Planet Computers are not an established company, yet. I’m delighted with what they have achieved, and if the Gemini is successful enough they will have many lessons learned when they start on the next Gemini.

    • Rod H - Merritt, BC, Canada Rod H - Merritt, BC, Canada

      I absolutely agree with John. I’m astounded that such a small group was able to achieve such staggering results. I go back to my ZX81 kit and felt right at home waiting for my Gemini. My order is locked and I eagerly await! Best regards to the team…and many thanks for seeing this through!

      • Richard Hallas Richard Hallas

        And so do I (agree with John). Give the size of the team involved, the final result is astoundingly good for a first attempt.

        I have also found it quite disheartening to see the amount of negativity in the Facebook group for supposed “enthusiasts”. A good many of them seem to be there merely to whinge about the Gemini, say how appallingly bad the keyboard is and generally complain about most aspects of its fit and finish. I do accept that some people seem to have come off better than others, and some of the keyboards may not be up to the intended standard. However, for the record, my own device is perfect. I love its little keyboard, and have no functional problems with it at all. It works extremely well; at least as well as my old Psion Series 5, and perhaps even better. I also have no problems with the hinge, and I’ve actually tried and failed to nip my skin in the hinge mechanism. (Again, I accept that this has been a painful problem for some – there’s pictorial evidence to prove it! – but it isn’t a problem for me.)

        I’m not a huge Android fan (I’d much rather use iOS), but overall I love the Gemini, especially in terms of the hardware. And I look forward to trying Sailfish on it in due course. And the quality of its screen is fantastic! (Yet people have complained about even that on the Facebook group!)

        The one thing I hope to be proved wrong about, in terms of Mike Halsey’s article, is his assertion that “frustration and anger will very quickly fade once all backers have received their units in a few weeks from when I write this, and these backers will quickly start evangelising about the product both online and offline” – I’m afraid I don’t agree. I don’t share his optimism about people, and feel that a great many will just continue to whinge. Some seem intent merely on trying to derail the whole project – and I’ve already seem people come to the Facebook group interested in buying a Gemini and being dissuaded from doing so by people telling them what a joke the keyboard is, and how unusable they consider it to be. This is the keyboard that’s virtually identical in design to that of the Psion 5, which was universally praised back in the 90s! As I say, the keyboard on my Gemini is perfect and I’m delighted with it.

  2. Crol Crol

    Spot on Mr Davies!

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Those of us who had experience of crowd funding or had done any research prior to backing, could see that the Gemini was a campaign that had a high chance of success and was well managed (as far as crowd funding campaigns go). But there were obviously those who didn’t understand crowd funding and thought and behaved as though they had made a ‘purchase’. Their frustration became more evident as time went on.

    Personally, I am in the ‘waited 15 years’ camp and couldn’t be happier with what Planet Computers have produced. Though there are minor bugs to be worked out, the hardware is top-notch and a worthy successor to the Psion 5mx I owned. Well done Planet!

  4. Sam Sam

    Hehe… When reading this it’s hard to not think cranky old biased men. 😋 “In the old days!”, “Kids nowadays!” and so on. All written up by a guy who was one of the first people to get a device , talking about patience, rich! 🤣

    • Tomáš Tomáš

      I am thirty one and I too share the surprise over the impatience shown. Not that I necessariyl think it has that much to do with age, or maybe I ma old already

      Anyway, complaining would have made sense if Planet were doing something slow deliberatly, but I doubt that was the case.

  5. Mike, great write-up. I don’t know why there were so many negative comments on the Indiegogo page. I think the Planet Computers Team did a great job as well as yourself and others for providing a positive feedback to the community.

    BTW: I was very surprised by how responsive Robin was to email messages. I sent him a few and did not expect a response but typically received a response within 24 hours. I know he was busy so it was difficult to reply to backer emails in addition to getting the units made.

  6. John Helton John Helton

    Thanks for the background story. Erik responded within a few hours to support request and got support number soon after. His fix worked. Very pleased with device and the quick support.

  7. .mau. .mau.

    I am old, in the sense that I had a Psion 5 and I didn’t mind to wait for some months more (even if I ordered a Wi-Fi model with US keyboard 🙂 so, even if this was my first attempt at crowdfunding, I did not blame how it worked. My only problem was the lack of interaction with the staff. Some choices had to be made, like the removal of the back camera or the NFC module. But perhaps a poll on what to remove given the space constraints would have been a better chocho.

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