Pebble Founder: This is your "last chance" to make a small Android phone

Pebble Founder: This is your “last chance” to make a small Android phone


Eric Migicovsky, who founded and ran the Pebble smart watch company and is working on a chat application that will bring iMessage to Android, has a new task: to get someone, anyone, to make an Android phone that you can actually use in one hand. He wants, as he said in an interview with The Verge“Unite” the community of small phone lovers to gain influence over phone manufacturers and suppliers.

To do this, he created a website – smallandroidphone.com – which explains his dream phone. He basically wants a flagship the size and shape of the iPhone Mini, but with Android. The site claims that small phones are goodin fact, and asks like-minded people to basically sign the petition. Migicovsky says he’s looking for 50,000 or more people to help manufacturers prove it’s worth their time and money to build an Android flagship with less than a 6-inch screen. Over 6,000 signatures passed within 12 hours of the site’s launch. It was over 10,000 on Wednesday.

After talking to him, I’m not entirely convinced that he has a plan to turn signatures into a real product – convincing companies to invest in a dedicated phone, instead of trying to make another big thing, is difficult (though not impossible). Even if you prove that this audience is relatively large and willing to pay. However, I left the conversation with Migicovsky Absolutely sure he is an avid fan of small phones and gets a good word on why they should come back.

“I got the idea because I was watching the Pixel 7 announcement and I thought, ‘Damn, they’re making another giant phone,’ and that really pissed me off,” says Migicovsky. That’s exactly how I felt when I heard that the “smallest” phone in the Pixel 6 series now has a 6.4-inch screen.

On his website, Migicovsky shows how much Pixel has grown in one generation.
Image: Eric Migicovsky

At first glance, it seems unrealistic that such a small number of people could persuade a company like Google or Samsung to invest in this phone, and Migicovsky tells me that its goal of 50,000 signatures is based on some “very, very back napkin.” . “mathematics.” “If you look at the start-up costs in a very rough way, it’s like $ 10 million to make your first phone. And then the others stand regardless of the cost components. ”

Its goal today is to simply indicate to anyone who would consider creating a compact Android phone that there is a market that could be profitable. “It’s hard to make money on phones, let alone make money in the smallest segment of the world. So my idea is to charge more. We’re all shouting here that we want this. We should be willing to pay a little more. ”If 50,000 people actually bought the phone, based on the $ 700-800 price it proposes on its website, the company could make tens of millions in profits from its estimated investment of $ 10 million. Again the very back of the napkin.

At this price level, however, I don’t think his dream phone would be hard to sell for enthusiasts. He says he’s looking for a phone that looks “as close as possible” to the iPhone Mini and that has:

5.4 ”1080p OLED display (60 Hz OK)

Cameras must be as good as Pixel 5

must have great performance in low light

Android OS Warehouse

Snapdragon 8 (or other flagship equivalent)

5G world phone

Front punch camera

2 rear cameras (standard and wide angle)

8GB RAM

128/256 GB storage

Screen on time 4 hours (SOT)

Unlockable bootloader

NFC

For what it’s worth, I absolutely click on the button on his page to say that I would be interested in buying it. Especially if he had one or two of the features on his “good to have” list, which are:

Durable enough not to need a case

Water resistance IP68

Fingerprint sensor on the power button

Hardware mute switch

Wireless charging

eSIM

However, even with a lot of signatures – and I’m not entirely convinced that 50,000 people count as a ton – it’s still very difficult for a company like Samsung, Google or even a boutique manufacturer. (Migičovský admits that he is not sure what big company would be best to take on this project, but at the moment he is willing to listen to anyone.) Making phones is not easy at best and the history of smartphones is full of well-meaning companies like RED, Nextbit ( which was composed by Razer) and Essential, which all tried to make the phones to serve some specialized audience, and all failed in some way.

To make matters worse, we are not in the best of times. It’s hard for anyone to access chips, and supply chains are a mess. Who in their right mind would like to get into trouble building a phone for niches, when people who ask for them can settle for a big phone in the meantime? Even for established companies, the opportunity cost of inserting rare chips and components into a “small” batch of phones of reasonable size can be enormous; no product manager wants to risk placing rare hardware in small phones that might not sell, instead of letting them go into big, cheap phones that the public seems to love.

Migicovsky thinks he has a solution that would deal with the risk of investing in a specialized project and the difficulty of buying chips. “One of the things I would do is sell them in advance,” he says. “I have a history of Kickstarter, and my premise is that people who want a small phone know they want a small phone. And when you put it in front of them – say, ‘Okay, let’s set up a little phone, do you want it?’ – I’d put money into it if you’re trustworthy and knowledgeable and you know what’s going on.

Obviously, having money in your hands does not guarantee that you will be able to do things. It can be difficult to find out who is trustworthy, and even companies with previous success can take much longer than expected to actually ship the product. That doesn’t mean it never worked before (you can buy Unihertz Jelly 2 if you want really small phone), but it’s not as simple as pre-orders = profit.

The default phone used to be ultra pocket. It is now difficult to find this size class.
Image: Dan Seifert / The Verge

When it comes to getting people to invest, Migicovsky doesn’t think it would be particularly difficult, because no one else makes a small phone. I have to agree. I know enough to know that I would do almost anything for a compact and comfortable device. “And then it solves the component problem,” he says, “because you just go to the manufacturer and say, ‘Hey, give me the components. Here’s the money. ”He also says that if a smaller company took on the project, it would be best to work with an OEM that already makes the phones, rather than trying to set up the production itself.

If Migicovsky’s survey finally convinces the manufacturer to take on the project – if someone sees all the names they have collected and agrees that there should be a small phone without iOS restrictions – he has one piece of advice for him: stay focused. .

“Like someone who has built a lot of hardware, it’s a slippery surface,” he says, explaining that people can immediately start thinking about adding an SD card reader or headphone jack if they’re already asking for a special phone. I admitted that my immediate thought after hearing about his idea was “this phone should have a 3.5mm jack,” and laughed.

But instead of adding all the features to enthusiasts, he thinks manufacturers should instead focus on making a good little phone with great cameras – even if they admit it’s not a small task. (In addition, great cameras do not automatically equate to great success, as Pixel’s market share estimates can attest.) He says on the web that he “planted a line in the sand and said,” I think I know what’s right. And if you agree with me, press this button. But if you don’t agree with me, don’t push a button. ‘”

Migicovsky thinks that the window of opportunity to demand a small Android phone may be closing. “Maybe this may be our last chance to take a stand and show support for small phones,” he said in an email. “If Apple kills the iPhone Mini, then every single OEM will say ‘not even Apple has succeeded’ and will have an easy excuse as to why none of them are making.”

It’s a legitimate concern, though no matter how quickly he gets his signatures, it’s unlikely anyone will come up with what he’s looking for before it happens. Rumors are almost universal to Apple leaving Mini from its ranks when it announces the iPhone 14 this fall (although we said it could absolutely live like the SE).

The Mini is a great phone and I and Migicovský use it. But it’s not perfect – I and many others have had problems with battery life, and I’ve heard from several colleagues that they stopped living the Mini lifestyle because they had to charge them too often.

Migicovsky says he uses a magnetic battery to help keep his Mini charged, which is one way to accomplish this.
Dieter Bohn / The Verge

It can be very difficult for a company to navigate in a potential downturn, especially when it comes time to launch a second small phone. Despite his experience, it was difficult for Migicovsky to answer when I asked him about it. “I do not know the answer there. At the moment, I do not plan to build it myself. I’ve had some advice before building hardware. ”But he had one piece of advice:“ Just make it thicker until the battery is bigger. ”

But that has its limits. Migicovsky says he likes the height and width of the Oppo Find N, which is a folding phone. But he also says he is just too fat and heavy. (He’s not even a fan of Flip, he says he can’t open it with one hand.)

Apple is not the only company trying to make compact phones. Migicovsky specifically mentions the Sony Xperia Compact range on his website, and when I ask him how he thinks Sony could improve it, he said the biggest problem is that the last one was made in 2018.

In 2015, we gave the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact higher score than the big version.

But of all the things you might criticize about Sony’s approach to compact phones, perseverance isn’t really what comes to mind; over the years, it has produced several compact models, many of which have received great reviews. Despite not sharing some of the problems Migicovsky came up with with other small phones (he says the Essential wasn’t particularly focused, the Asus Zenfone was too big and Nokia’s 2018 small phones eliminated too many features), Sony seemed unable to. does not justify the continued production of compact models.

When you hear his request and read his website, it might be easy to think, “Hey. You made Pebble and spent many years working with venture capital investors. If you want it so bad, why don’t you just do it yourself? “

Migicovsky says he did not rule out the idea as an absolute last resort, but that “he really hopes someone else will.” I understand his concerns about that. Pebble was a good idea that appealed to enthusiasts and admitted that even that was not enough. “We have failed to create a sustainable, profitable business,” he wrote last month, looking back at a smart watch company ten years after its launch on Kickstarter.

Instead of being the person who has to bring back a small Android phone, he’s looking for a spark that will get enough people to demand it in the market. “There are 7 billion people on Earth.” We are not all the same. Everyone has slightly different customs and peculiarities. Some of us like these little phones, ”he says. “I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to gather enough troops.” As someone who would rather give up on smartphones – maybe trade his iPhone for something fun, like the “banana phone” Migicovsky mentioned to me – than get RSI from something that almost classifies as a tablet, I’m trying to hope so.





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