Kickstarter is a place of big ideas by small teams. Big companies get bogged down by logistics and profitability, while passionate, agile talent can make the streamlined products customers want. That’s the tacit premise behind every hardware campaign on Kickstarter.
The Brydge was a perfect example of this. Now shipping to early pre-orders, the Brydge was a massively successful ($797,979) Kickstarter-backed Bluetooth keyboard that ostensibly turned the iPad into a Macbook. As the product description read:
Brydge’s aluminum body is machined and anodized so that it matches the look and feel of the iPad precisely. When paired together Brydge and your iPad appear to be two parts of the same device, blending style and functionality seamlessly. Unlike other products made of painted plastic in an effort to look similar to the iPad, Brydge does not fake it. Not only does it look good, but when held in your hands you can feel the quality craftsmanship Apple lovers demand.
I’ve tested out a review unit, and my only real critique—beyond the impossibility of pairing the Bluetooth speakers—is that the Brydge is exactly like every other Apple-stylized product I’ve ever tested. It looks great in product photos, but as soon as you actually touch it in person, you realize all the little things are wrong. The anodized aluminum has an uninviting, ever-so-scratchy texture. The keys have a strange amount of give, their plastic lacks suppleness and their edges are sharp. Plus, unlike a real laptop, the Brydge base isn’t lighter than your iPad screen, but it’s not much heavier, so it constantly teeters on tipping over.
In other words, the Brydge is in the same boat as just about every third-party product (many backed by mega corporations) that’s attempted to match Apple’s build quality blow for blow. It’s absolutely the sort of premium accessory you’d imagine seeing on the shelves at Best Buy: It’s mediocre.
So the Brydge is no scandal, and it’s no messiah, either—though it certainly seems a touch expensive for its quality at ~$200.
For Kickstarter, unrefined and/or overpromised goods are a real problem. Not so long ago, amidst a wave of bad press from outlets like NPR, Kickstarter enacted some new policies to remind "backers" that this was an investment (risk-oriented) site, and that products may differ from sales pitches.
Product renders and simulations were banned, since anyone can draw a flying car. And a risks section was added to each listing, requiring project leads to explain problems that could arise in producing their good. These changes certainly protect consumers—err, investors—but I’m not sure they solve the larger problem: Is Kickstarter a venue that encourages good designs to become great ones, or great designs to be scaled into incredible manufactured products?
The Kickstarter premise is all about big ideas by the little guy—it’s about rolling the dice to back the basement inventors and coffee shop designers, handing a pile of cash to the Thomas Edisons and Jony Ives who haven’t been discovered yet. But while the best ideas may be born from inspiration, they mature through perspiration. And Kickstarter, as inspiring as it may be as a platform, isn’t designed at its core to encourage refinement.
[Images: Mark Wilson]