From watches to consoles, Kickstarter gave these little guys a voice at CES 2014

crowdfunded gadgets CES

More than 3 million people pledged over $480 million to Kickstarter projects last year. A total of 19,911 projects successfully met their funding targets, and it felt like most of them were on show at CES 2014 in Vegas. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have broken down the barrier between having a great idea and realizing it, by allowing people to pre-order products and fund the development.

Never has the influence of Kickstarter and the crowdfunding movement been so keenly felt as it was at CES 2014. Everywhere we looked, there were crowdfunding success stories. We now know that Kickstarter can get you to the Consumer Electronics Show. But can it get you out? CES has a rich history of showing us products that never see the light of day, or bomb on arrival. Are we self-funding future failure?

Say hello to the smartwatches you paid for

The headliner in the mobile tech space is undoubtedly Pebble. The original Pebble watch project on Kickstarter was shooting for $100,000, and it actually raised more than $10 million. This year the company didn’t need any crowdfunding help to launch its new model, the Pebble Steel. The Pebble is a true success.

Beating your funding goals on Kickstarter is no guarantee of success, nor is paying money to exhibit at CES.

Comparing is not easy, but we know that 300,000 Pebble smartwatches have been sold to date. Claims that Samsung only sold 50,000 Galaxy Gear units were swiftly denied by the South Korean manufacturer. However, the revelation that its 800,000 figure was units shipped not sold, means we still don’t know if more than a small stadium’s worth of people bought the thing. Pebble’s success highlights the potential of crowdfunding when it goes right. It has outsold even Samsung’s watch, most likely.

Other examples include the Neptune Pine, essentially a smartphone on your wrist, kick-started by over $800,000 of backing. At the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the minimalist CST-01 which pulled in just over $1 million after an outing at CES 2013. That’s merely the tip of the smartwatch iceberg. Cast an eye across Kickstarter’s back catalogue and you’ll find names like Omate, MetaWatch, Martian, ConnecteDevice (responsible for the Cookoo), and HOT (Hands-On-Talk); not to mention the Indiegogo funded Kreyos. All of them were showing off new devices in and around CES 2014.

Accessories and game devices galore

At CES 2014 there were too many smartphone gadgets to mention.

The appeal of something like Poppy, a device to transform your iPhone into a working 3D camera, is immediately obvious. Yellow Jacket, on the other hand, an iPhone battery case with a built-in stun gun, doesn’t have the same appeal, but enough people felt it was on the genius side of the crazy/genius line to pledge more than $100,000 on Indiegogo. Tech journalists, including our very own Andrew Couts, were queued up to zap themselves with it at CES.

Yellow Jacket iphone stun gun

Gaming has provided most of the other big success stories from Kickstarter. The virtual reality gaming headset, Oculus Rift, raised nearly $2.5 million. Then there was the Ouya games console, running Android, which raised more than $8.5 million. The contrast is extreme. As it turned out, Ouya was a major flop, while Oculus VR has just secured $75 million in venture funding and continues to generate a great deal of excitement ahead of its commercial release. Both devices were at CES. 

The wait is long…

A major complaint that frequently crops up from backers in the crowdfunding scene is the long wait before ideas become actual products. The “world’s thinnest watch,” the CST-01, unveiled at CES 2013, beat its $200,000 goal by pulling in over $1 million, and was shown off again at CES this year, but backers are still empty-handed. It was set to ship in September, but delays have driven the estimate back to a vague “Q1 of 2014.” Some supporters are distinctly irked, as you can see that in the comments, but delays are common and there’s every indication that the CST-01 will still ship.

This still highlights a very real potential risk with backing Kickstarter projects – they might never come to fruition. Beating your funding goals on Kickstarter is no guarantee of success, nor is paying money to exhibit at CES.

Pebble’s success highlights the potential of crowdfunding when it goes right.

Perhaps the highest profile vaporware to date was another kind of wearable that looks set to take off in the near future. ZionEyez, now Zeyez, were to produce video-recording glasses that could stream to Facebook. The project beat the $55,000 goal by raising $343,415 in the summer of 2011, but the product was never realized and backers lost their investments.

Many of the projects on Kickstarter are actually providing support for earlier successful projects. There are a number of games in development for the Oculus Rift. You’ll also find a dock, and alternative straps and covers for the Pebble smartwatch. Even the 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator Mini has spawned a supporting cast of extruders, electronics, and enclosures.

The idea that big crowdfunded successes can stimulate cottage industries of their own is really inspiring. Sure, they may struggle to make a dent when compared with the big boys of consumer electronics, but everyone starts out small. Ideas as diverse as the 3Doodler 3D printing pen, the FINsix power adapter, and the CastAR augmented reality glasses rocked the CES floor with Kickstarter support.

Kickstarter is at CES, but it doesn’t dominate … yet

Our Best of CES 2014 Award Winners clearly shows the power of the big manufacturers. The only company with a crowdfunded history to win an award was Pebble, and the new Steel smartwatch was never on Kickstarter. For all the products on display at CES, the vast majority will fail to varying degrees, but the fact that some of them are there, rubbing shoulders with the established brands, is fascinating and unprecedented.

Kickstarter was only founded in 2009, but it is growing fast. There are also many alternatives springing up, from Indiegogo to Quirky to RocketHub. The long term impact of this form of funding is far from clear. Before crowdfunding, we thought it was impossible to break into the electronics market. Now we know that even the smallest crowdfunded project can make it to the world’s largest electronics show. Now all they have to do is make it into your local Walmart or Best Buy.

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