Rob Katcher had a very simple reason to develop Hiku. “It arose out of a need," he tells Co.Design. "I was tired of running out of stuff.” The handheld gadget (in Kickstarter mode) is designed to live comfortably in the kitchen, and sends your growing grocery lists straight to the cloud simply by scanning barcodes or speaking directly to the device. While he admits the process was a bit of a "slow burn," there did come a time when it made the most sense to move forward with the idea. “Putting my youngest daughter to bed in a swim diaper one night because we were out of Pull-Ups definitely pushed me over the edge.”
He partnered with Manu Chatterjee, a fellow former Palm employee—they worked as a senior product manager in the consumer smartphone group, and senior director of advanced technology, respectively—and together they built the first prototype using off the shelf component parts. “We took existing handheld scanners—really ugly ones!—and stuck them to the fridge using velcro sticky buttons, then paired them with iPod Touches via bluetooth in order to bridge to the web,” he says. After that, it was all about putting the product in the hands of the people—in this case, friends and folks they knew—in order to see how they reacted to it, how they used it, what worked and what didn’t.
Refining the form of Hiku was a matter of making it fit in the kitchen environment: stainless steel touches, adding a rubbery ring for more grip on the countertop, reducing the button size just a tad. Developing the software, however, provided a different kind of challenge. “We decided to make it open so that Hiku could work with popular lists apps like Remember the Milk, Evernote, and Astrid,” Katcher explains.
So, will adding another gizmo to your life really make things easier? As a single gal living in a studio apartment, all grocery needs are my own and pretty minimal; a notepad and pen are generally enough to keep me in line. However, it seems that multi-member households have a heck of a lot more to account for, and a streamlined system would actually be a major boon. “I have three kids at home, and just getting everyone fed, clothed, and out the door on time in the morning is a challenge,” Katcher says. “When we run out of cereal or bananas, the last thing we want to do is find the phone, unlock it, find the mobile app, let it launch, tap add, and start typing.” Hiku also allows lists to be shared amongst the family, and can even be used by the younguns. “I can say to my five-year old, ‘Lila, would you beep this in for daddy?’ Not only will she do it, but she gets a big smile on her face—one of the best signs for any technology product,” Katcher says.