Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)

Stroller linux.luser at
Mon Apr 28 23:01:00 CEST 2008

On 28 Apr 2008, at 17:54, hank williams wrote:

> I have to say my unvoiced thoughts were the same as Ryan's. I was  
> not at all clear why a call for the community to help figure  
> marketing stuff out would be met by a request to take the  
> discussion off list as though it was somehow inappropriate for  
> public discussion. It seemed like a very strange response. Now  
> reading the responses to Ryan's comments seem even more strange. I  
> feel like I am missing something because the responses to Ryan's  
> comments seem on the surface, inappropriate as well.

If you read further back in this thread you'll see that the subject  
changed in reply to my message, "Re: Ugliness"  (26 April 2008  
13:58:04 BST).

If you read back you'll see that before that someone was complaining  
"the Freerunner will never sell in the mass-market because me & my  
friends think it's ugly", and my counterpoint was, "heck, I'm sure  
FIC have done some market research (focus groups &c)".

Lowell Higley obviously knows his stuff regarding selling tech  
products, and he raises some interesting points. I immediately wanted  
to reply to them, but I could have spent hours doing so. Not to argue  
with him, just to purse interesting avenues of discussion.

But Lowell's insights are far more in depth than your average Xbox vs  
Playstation, who's-winning-the-format-war, fanbois' forum thread. As  
Lowell says:

   Marketing is much more than holding focus groups and creating sales
   copy.  There is competitive analysis, business cases, marketing
   requirements, "negotiating" with engineering over the final product,
   schedule.. and the list goes on.  My point is, as I look at things
   and put the picture together, I see no strong marketing presence
   in the FreeRunner.  Where's the MRD?  Where's the focus group?
   Where's the business case?

In case you don't speak the business jargon, "competitive analysis"  
means "how much does the competition sell for, how much will it cost  
us to make a similar product and how much profit can we make?".

"Business cases" and the results of focus groups, say FIC stating  
that "you & your friends may think it's ugly, but we reckon we can  
sell XX thousand units and make $yyyyyyy profit" aren't really any of  
our business.

In his second message (27 April 2008 18:16:11 BST) Lowell raises the  
"goal" of the OpenMoko project, which is ostensibly "the best  
possible mobile phone software stack" that can be installed over a  
wide range of phones. But underlying that is the fact that the goal  
of FIC, in sponsoring OpenMoko, is to sell more phones and (like any  
business) make more profit.

For any company this sort of information - the anticipated number of  
units sold, market breakdown &c - is a trade secret, and I don't see  
why OpenMoko should be any different. In many cases this sort of  
information may be available to someone with experience in the  
industry (or reasonably estimable by them), but it may not be the  
sort of information that any company will publish casually.

Whilst OpenMoko may be interested in public discussion of what we  
consumers want (colours, features &c), whilst they may be interested  
in open discussion of ideas and whilst they're obviously prepared to  
give fuller and more dynamic feedback to us, how much money they're  
making on each phone is none of our business. I'm sure that Apple  
don't even tell their shareholders how much each iPod costs to build.

When we buy FIC's OpenMoko products we're buying hardware that is  
guaranteed open-source, so that we can fix it ourselves. We're buying  
FIC's sponsorship of the programmers contributing to the OpenMoko  
codebase and we're buying a promise of warranty & support in the  
future (we obviously hope that FIC will continue to sponsor updated  
firmware for our phones in the future, and we're pretty confident  
they're going to do so longer - and provider better feature updates -  
than Sony Ericson). Just as, in polite company, one doesn't ask one's  
friends or acquaintances how much they earn, it is likewise none of  
our business how much FIC makes out of each phone sake, and it seems  
to me that that's pretty much what the "secrecy" whiners on this  
thread are asking for (although they may not have actually realised  

Any company will provide "inside information" to the trade press -  
perhaps if you're able to demonstrate such informed questions as  
Lowell has then FIC'll invite you, too, to their opening  
presentations. You'll maybe have to sign an NDA, but you'll still be  
able to make oblique tips to your readers based on your improved  
vision of the mobile phone market place. What you have to do first is  
demonstrate that you're not a whining fanboi, but that your unique  
insight can add value to the discussion of the product.

I found Lowell's remarks interesting because he seems to be looking  
at Freerunner's place in the market from the old closed-development  
point of view. It seems likely to me that FIC don't need to sell as  
many phones as Nokia in order to make a profit, at least not all at  
once - the developing state of OpenMoko will ensure a longer  
production life-span for the Freerunner than the 6 months or so of  
the typical mobile phone in the high street store. As the first  
generation of OpenMoko phone, the whole production span of Freerunner  
may be a loss-leader to FIC - one might expect the buzz and blogging  
generated over the course of two years to increase massively the  
demand for OpenMoko's 2010 (say) product.


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