There is a saying that “Hardware” should really be two “four-letter” words in the context of building products, especially electromechanical gizmos. This adage seems to be borne out in the struggles of some high profile hardware/software companies.
Orbotix makes a cool remote controlled ball called “Sphero” that you can control with your iPhone or Android handset. It looks like a fun toy, but they were overwhelmed by the complexity of producing it in volume and had to cancel Christmas for a lot of nerds.
Jawbone has been around for 6 years and has raised $162 million dollars in VC money and they still have trouble producing robust products. Their new health monitoring device debuted to great fanfare, but was pulled from the market due to technical issues.
MakerBot has been manufacturing and distributing 3D printer kits for nearly three years, based on an open source hardware design that is even older and they still can’t fulfill demand for their systems.
The scary thing is that all these companies seem to be really well run, are amply funded, and well connected to people with deep manufacturing expertise. They are all basically startups and presumably have the passion that comes along with that kind of culture. Hardware is just REALLY hard.
My company makes a hardware device and even with 100+ people and 100+ years of cumulative manufacturing experience, it is a challenge to bring physical products into existence. The founders of all these companies deserve a lot of credit for taking on terrifically challenging products and I hope others follow in their foot steps. There is something pretty exciting that happens when you combine bits and atoms.