Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

mercredi 21 juillet 2004

A week ago, I wrote a column about a new Tactile Digital Assistant (TDA), the Jackito. Many readers questioned the existence of the product and thought it might be an elaborate scam. I also had serious doubts. But as the company behind this TDA, Novinit, is French, I decided to investigate and contacted the company. And I spent several hours with the CEO and the CTO. I told them about the mistakes they made in their early announcement and asked what kind of corrective actions they were taking to fix the situation and build trust in their product. I also discussed their vision of this TDA, the history of the project and its possible future. But more importantly, I used an early prototype. I don't know if this TDA will be a success, but one thing is sure: it's real.

[Disclaimer: I'm not associated in any form with this company. In particular, I have no financial ties with Novinit.]

Searching an address book with Jackito Let's start with an example of how you can search a database or a large address book, with just your thumbs. Check this one-minute video for more (Credit: Novinit). This demo was the one that impressed me the most. It's much faster to use your thumbs than a stylus to do this kind of search.

Before looking at the mistakes done by Novinit, I must say that trying to sell a new product by direct marketing on the Web is quite difficult. But it also shows the power of the Web. With so many feedbacks, a company can very easily and quickly modify its message to build trust in its products.

Below are selected questions asked to the CEO, Arnaud de la Fouchardière, and to the CTO, François Mizzi, with their answers.

Q: The home page of Novinit points to the home page of Jackito. Is Novinit a real company?
A: This has already been fixed. Novinit and Jackito have now separate home pages.
Q: Prospective buyers of your TDA can only deposit money on a PayPal account. This is pretty unusual. Why don't you also accept money from credit cards accounts?
A: We had problems dealing with the credit card companies. It took time and we were not ready when we put the site online. This should be fixed today and we'll accept safe deposits from credit cards.
Q: Anyway, why do you ask a deposit of $100 for a product which is not yet available? Isn't clumsy?
A: We thought of this deposit as analog to a subscription to a magazine. But this money, coming from a credit card or a PayPal account, will not been cashed by us before delivery of the Jackito. We are using escrow accounts. And as we said in our guarantees, these deposits are refundable.
Q: The home page of Jackito shows color images. But it seems that you recommend a black and white screen. Why that?
A: It is true that we think that the vast majority of users will choose a black and white screen both for the extended battery life and for price reasons. But color just looks prettier on a welcome page. We'll fix this.
Q: Readers of several online well-known blogs expressed their concerns. Why haven't you answer them directly?
A: We have been overwhelmed by the thousands of e-mails we received. So we chose to answer by adding progressively more FAQ pages on our site.
Q: In order to lure developers, you wrote that a software development kit (SDK) will be available for free, but for a limited time. Do you think that developers will adopt your platform if the SDK is not permanently available?
A: This is a mistake and we'll update our site. The SDK will be permanently and freely available to all Jackito's buyers.

There were obviously more Q&As during this interview, but those ones were the most important.

I also ask them more general questions about the Jackito.

Q: What is the difference between a PDA and your TDA?
A: Current PDAs are more or less downsized PCs. In a way, the Jackito is an upgraded version of a Gameboy. They are different classes of products. You don't need a huge manual to use our TDA. You take it in your hands and start to use it immediately and in a very intuitive way. We think that the Jackito will help people around the world to learn about things and be more productive. We don't compete with PDAs. We want to open a totally new market.
Q: What is the history of the product?
A: The first tactile digital assistants were built for the military by Litton Industries back in 1978. At this time, this device weighed 1 kilogram, cost about $10,000 and consumed 9 watts of power. In the last 25 years, we worked with American and Asian companies to improve the technology. Now a Jackito is 20 times smaller, 20 times cheaper, and consumes 60 times less energy. And of course, it's incredibly more powerful.
Q: When the Jackito will be available?
A: First deliveries will take place in three months.
Q: Imagine that the Jackito becomes a huge success and that you receive one million orders during the next three months. Could you produce all these units?
A: We have a very flexible agreement with a major production company which guarantees us to deliver any kind of quantities. But of course, if we're lucky enough to receive one million orders, it will take some time to fulfill them.
Q: What kind of market are you targeting?
A: By launching this sales campaign online, we are clearly targeting early adopters of new technologies. But in a next step, we think that some vertical applications will be developed. We are already talking with some large companies to deliver customized versions of the Jackito in huge quantities.
How do you see the future?
We want to build a large community of users and developers. And of course, we hope to be successful to reward our investors and shareholders.

So will the Jackito be a success? We'll see in a few months.

Source: Roland Piquepaille, July 21, 2004

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