Cell phones are great, but we only know one side of the story.
We know about the new models that come out every year, we know about their features, the apps, the millions of things we can get lost in our phone doing. But when it comes to the production, manufacturing processes are generally kept under wraps for obvious reasons. We are consumers and if we knew more about the other side of the story we might choose to consume less.
With the Light Phone we don't just want to make a phone that helps you take a break. We also want to show you how this piece of technology is made. What does the manufacturing process look like? How many people are involved? What's their story? Why do we make the decisions we make as a company? We believe that if everyone has a better understanding of how technology is made, and what the true costs are, we might make better decisions regarding our consumption.
Two questions we were frequently asked throughout the campaign were "Why does it cost so much for just a phone?" and "Is it going to be fair trade?" This has taught us that there is a huge disconnect between our perception and the reality of manufacturing. To bring a piece of technology like a phone to life, there are tens of thousands of people involved around the world. It is an enormous undertaking to say the least. There is no way a phone should ever cost $10 as people have suggested to us. Alternatively, as a team of two it would be impossible for us to completely change the whole supply chain and guarantee a fair trade phone within a year, or even a few years, as nice as that sounds to us.
We think we can add value to this conversation by showing the true nature of the manufacturing process at our scale. We want to provide consumers with an understanding of what is involved in bringing new models to market every year at such an impossibly competitive price. To manufacture a ‘fair trade’ smart phone would mean that we as consumers would need to be willing to pay what we can only imagine would cost more than a house for a smart phone. We believe by making this information available we might have a deeper appreciation for the technology we already have, and begin to think twice as we continue to consume more so quickly.
Prior to Kickstarter
We engaged with a few Chinese manufacturers very early on. There are many manufacturing companies in Asia that are capable of producing mobile products but the process of finding ‘the one’ is not so easy, especially for a team of two people.
In fact, it became apparent that this may be the first time that two individuals have set out to bring a phone to market. We could sense right away there was a lot of hesitation and doubt from manufacturers, and this makes sense. For a factory to work with us, they are essentially "investing" their resources in our product. There is a huge opportunity cost in working on any product, and start ups (or "makers" as they are referred to in China) are seen as a risk because they don't have the same proven demand as more traditional corporations who are working on products within established markets. Since we were working on opening a new market with a new product, we knew we needed to prove demand to our potential manufacturing partners.
Our goal was to partner up with a manufacturer who has experience with sourcing, assembling, testing and distributing mobile devices to markets overseas. It was extremely helpful to get feedback at such an early stage directly from manufacturers who were able to tell us what was feasible at a high level. We knew this would need to be a long-term relationship and it that would be crucial to meet in person to find the right fit for Light.
Trip to China to Meet Partners
The Chinese market for mobile devices is booming. South China, specifically ShenZhen, is currently the place to be if you want to make a hardware product. The supply chain for electronic devices is very mature. You can basically find everything you need in a matter of days. Through our networks and advisors we were able to put together a list of phone manufacturers in the region and then flew over to meet in person.
Although we received interest from manufacturers during our Kickstarter campaign, before landing in China we were worried that the factories might not understand the ideas behind our product enough to support us over the long-term.
Over three weeks we spoke with over a dozen companies. To our surprise, almost everyone was intrigued by the Light Phone, and understood its premise. They fully resonated with the idea of feeling overly connected. There were signs painted on the ground all over Hong Kong asking pedestrians to look up from their phones because it had become such a safety hazard. One friend we met during a meeting told us that his life was becoming ruined by emails and text messages and he could see using the Light Phone as a way to help him get some of his family life back. He told us he "needed it now!" It was unreal to see how widespread this problem had become.
Some of the manufacturers we spoke with wanted to partner up but didn’t have the specific experience in making mobile phones that we were looking for. Many companies had to say no just because our idea was not aligned closely enough with their current roadmap for them to allocate the resources we needed. One of the executives at a factory actually sent us a personal message to express his appreciation of the Light Phone after his company ultimately decided they would not be able to partner with us.
We flew to Taiwan to meet with a team from Foxconn. We met with them every day for a full week. We felt that this team actually believed in the mission we are trying to accomplish. They have factories located in both Taiwan and China.
We started immediately, and have been working with their team around the clock on a daily basis to evaluate our design and ensure that our phone is built to meet international requirements for both carrier and government regulations. These are the same evaluations we've asked of all our potential partners. They have been able to troubleshoot potential hurdles that other manufacturers were not. We look forward to working with this team over the next couple of months. The project has picked up serious momentum.
The Light Phone Timeline Update
The phones will still ship June 2016 as originally planned. Below is a modified version of our production milestones based on the new software and hardware development. We are planning to have our first prototype ready by end of November and our second prototypes ready by February of next year. We are expecting to have much more frequent updates now that everything is moving full speed.
We've been working on overcoming challenges we've had with finding the best display, the proper battery, and making sure the phone passes all regulations internationally. Like any manufacturing project, there are of course things we could not have predicted ahead of time, and we will be sharing our challenges and resolutions for these specific aspects of the phone in the coming weeks. Overall we are very optimistic.
We look forward to shipping your Light Phones this coming June.