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The first 4 things to do when creating a viable piece of hardware

The first 4 things to do when creating a viable piece of hardware 1

Here’s a sad statistic in tech — 97% of hardware startups fail within the first 20 months after attracting their first investments. Hardware is… hard, but it’s also what makes these projects interesting. In this article, I’ll give you an insight into how my team and I developed a smart speaker and other gadgets as an example of how to create a hardware product.

I’ll go into how we developed these products to describe what stages of development a device goes through before it reaches store shelves. Hopefully it can help you on your own hardware journey!

Let’s start with the basics. Here’s a typical product development cycle (such as for a smart speaker or a smart screen) from idea to launch. I’ll focus on stages 1-4, the fundamentals.

It all starts, of course, with an idea. Everyone has a lot of ideas, but most are discarded at the feasibility study or proof-of-concept stages. These steps should never be neglected. Otherwise, at later stages of the project, it may turn out that the product is not technically feasible, or the cost of the final device is so high that it reduces the commercial success of the device to zero.

Feasibility study

The most important part of a product’s research is the feasibility study of the product.

You can start by analyzing existing platforms and solutions. This can be done by examining the teardowns of several popular devices from the target category, and making a list of the main components and their suppliers. Datasheets on these components will provide a complete picture of how the components comply with the specification that you plan to implement.

A few words about MVPr (minimum viable prototype), which should not be confused with MVP (minimum viable product). MVPr is an early working prototype with minimal functionality, which is created primarily to confirm the validity of the idea and test a number of product hypotheses.

MVPr is usually assembled from commercially available modules or HDK (hardware developer kits) to minimize development time. 3-4 years ago, developers would have had to work hard to create the MVPr of a smart speaker.

Now, smart speaker HDK are available both from small companies (usually quite affordable, costing up to $100), and from leading market companies such as Qualcomm, Amazon, or Google (such HDKs are often more expensive — from a few hundred to several thousand dollars). Often, access to the SDK, developer documentation, test firmware, and sample applications is bundled with the HDK.

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Credit: Espressif