Palette Gear teardown
At Productize we like to scan the market for cool new ideas and products. And at times we get to purchase one and rip it open to see what’s inside, with a focus on hardware and electronics design.
Recently the Palette Gear got our attention: it’s a customizable physical controller for your computer, with buttons, sliders, and dial knob to control your favourite software: Photoshop, Premiere, Live, etc… The device comes with an app to assign keyboard shortcuts to each element of the controller.
If Palette Gear is a great idea and claims to be awesome, we wanted to see it with our own eyes, and check what’s inside 🙂 Will it resist our teardown?
Our teardown and analysis
- Palette is a great idea, brilliantly executed: product and mechanical design are really neat!
The first thing we notice when opening the box is the carefully designed packaging. The box uses high quality cardboard and foam and feels of good quality.
The Palette Gear itself is made of good quality material, and the aluminium casing gives a professional look & feel. The bottom part is produced with soft-touch plastics and rubber to restrain the device from sliding on the table.
The connectors system with magnet contacts work seamlessly, very easy to understand and the organization of elements in the palette is straightforward and highly flexible.
The mix of hardware & software is very responsive as shown is the example below:
Finished fully configured setting (Didn’t I tell you I use Powerpoint a lot?)
- Electronics design is ok (these are “just” buttons after all), mechanical design is good with a few surprises
Now let’s get to business and use our nice iFixit toolkit to have a closer look inside!
We find high quality plastics that must be quite expensive to produce (look at the reinforcements and the injection points).
The 3 female connectors are connected to the main board with flat-cables, and placed against the plastic. Nice finish but this requires a lot of manual handling in manufacturing.
Male connector is onboard.
Detail of the board
Detail of the plastic to distribute light from the 2 LEDs. We believe this part doesn’t do its job very well (as you can see in the pictures when the device is on, one can see clearly the 2 LEDs)
Both the button and dial have the exact same PCB, which makes it easier to produce.
Finally, the slider shows the same principle with a bigger board to manage the additional 2 female connectors.
- Estimated BOM between 90€ and 140€ for the expert kit (depending on order volumes, here the estimates are for volumes of ~1.000 units and costs can be much lower if they scale)
We believe the #1 cost item is the casing (aluminium + soft-touch plastic) and assembly. Then the board connectors should cost some money, given the number of cables and connectors per device.
The main microcontroller is a Atmel ATmega168A, a very common 20Mhz chip Arduino-compatible (estimated cost per unit 1 to 2€, depending on volumes).
Below our detailed estimates (example for the button):
Total BOM for the Expert Kit:
Not to be forgotten, on top of variable costs, there should be a lot of fixed costs involved, e.g. for molds (between 20.000 € and 50.000 € ?), Design, Software, Certification, and all the hard work along the project!!!
- We have some concerns related to manufacturing capabilities and the business model
Compared to other devices with similar connectors (LittleBits), magnets are quite strong and located very close to components. This might affect the electronics in the long term.
Illustration: Littlebits use very small magnets.
The use of flat-cables as an internal link with connectors is understandable but should make the products difficult to manufacture in a fully automated mode. There must be manual work involved to stack everything inside the casing and plug in the 3 connectors per small device. Thus increasing manufacturing cost and reducing economies of scale. All connectors could be directly on the board, making it easier to manufacture with a pick and place.
The device is envisioned purely as hardware sales. No service, upgrade, or subscription fees. Thus, the high pricepoint and somewhat professional positioning makes us wonder how the company can be profitable in the long term. Yet another case of a kickstarter startup rise & fall-after-6-months?
- If the product can be very useful for specific use cases (specifically for a professional use of Adobe suite), user experience could be improved easily and product could target more users
We have identified 3 improvement areas for the product:
- Pre-defined settings should be more present. Palette team seems to rely on the community to develop and post settings, but to date there are only less than 20 present on the website. Development of a more exhaustive library would be nice (e.g. the Photoshop template only works with CC and not previous versions, only one template is available vs. several setups to switch from if you have only 2 sliders, etc)
- Sliders should be dynamic, making it more convenient to use: the value is currently not memorized and this can be cumbersome when you switch from one screen (or one picture in photoshop) to another
- In addition to keyboard shortcuts, the Palette Gear should enable scripting of a suite of actions, in order to automate the workflow or activate options that are not available in a keyboard shortcut for a specific software.
Check out Palette Gear here: http://palettegear.com/
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