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Summary:

Former Apple executive Tim Bucher has hired away some key technical leaders from Netflix, Apple, YouTube, Amazon and Intel for a new stealth hardware startup.

black pearl feature art

There’s a new band of pirates loose in the Valley, and they’re out to grab the best and the brightest from companies like Netflix, Apple, Amazon and Intel: Cupertino-based stealth startup Black Pearl Systems quietly has been assembling a killer team that is out to “create a category-defining product to tackle a problem that faces billions of technology users,” as the company likes to say in its job postings.

Understatement may not be Black Pearl’s thing, but the company has some impressive creds to back up those big words: Black Pearl CEO Tim Bucher used to be in charge of engineering at Apple, where he played a key role in products like the Mac mini and the iPod. Content CTO Scott Smyers was a long-time Sony executive who also founded and led the DLNA consortium.

Senior Systems Engineer Joseph Palmer was in charge of hardware engineering at Danger. Co-founder Ain McKendrick also co-founded Palm. UX Director Jeff Ma designed the user interface of the Apple TV. Founding team member Greg Orzell used to be Cloud Architect at Netflix.

The list goes on. LinkedIn includes close to 40 people currently working for Black Pearl Systems, and the roster of employees reads a bit like a who’s who of digital media and mobile hardware development. The company was able to hire a total of 15 people away from Netflix, including both device and cloud specialists. A number of people worked for Danger at some point of their career, and Apple, YouTube, Microsoft, TiVo, Roku and Amazon’s secretive LAb126 R&D unit are all represented as well.

So what does Black Pearl do? It’s a very secretive stealth company, but I’ve been talking to sources, scouring job offers, Linkedin profiles, trademark applications and other bits of information, and here’s what I’ve been able to gather:

  • Black Pearl Systems is a hardware company. The startup recently became a member of the Consumer Electronics Association, and it has already booked a suite for the 2014 CES in Las Vegas.
  • One of its first hardware products will likely be an Android tablet. I’ve seen photos of a tablet that looks remarkably similar to the phased-out Sony Tablet S, complete with the slanted look that made the S a great coffee table product – which is where Black Pearl wants its hardware product to sit.
  • There’s apparently also going to be a companion device that matches the tablet in colors, and is in all likelihood going to be used to stream content wirelessly to your TV.
  • This is about way more than just hardware. A bunch of folks at Black Pearl have serious cloud creds, and the company is looking to hire more cloud and big data people “to build massively scalable services that will act as the brains for a seamless user experience across billions of connected devices,” as one of the job offers on its home page states.
  • To that effect, Black Pearl is also building apps for existing Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as apps for PCs and Macs.
  • The company has registered a number of trademarks in recent weeks, including for terms like “home data center,” “personal data center,” “data fabric” and “data mesh.” Doesn’t really sound like a brand for anything you’d expect to buy one day? Then how about this one: Last month, Black Pearl filed a trademark registration for “Lyve.”
  • These guys really like that whole pirate theme. Not only is the company’s logo a pirate ship, word is that there’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of Jack Sparrow in Black Pearl’s office.

What does all of this mean? My hunch is that Black Pearl is working on some kind of home media platform that’s based on Android and extends to your existing mobile devices. Something like a Sonos, but for all your media. Or kind of like Plex, but for people who aren’t geeks.

The centerpiece may be a dedicated media tablet that doubles as a remote control and connects your TV screen to the cloud, and your existing devices will hook into the platform and be able to get your media instantly, where ever you are.

Of course, that’s just an educated guess — but I’m pretty sure Black Pearl Systems is up to something big.

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  1. We’ll see. Philly was supposed to win the Superbowl with their “Dream Team”. Basically the low hanging fruit is centralized management of media (photos, music and to a lesser extent social)

    Despite grandiose claims of “innovation” little has really been done to eradicate the predicament that families find themselves in. There are silos and silos of data that are cumbersome to manage.

    Apple hasn’t found the elixir and neither has Microsoft.

  2. Just wanted to tell Janko Roettgers that I’m pretty impressed with the research and observations. For a stealth startup, this is pretty good insight. Well done.

  3. Sounds like Mirra 3.0 in the newer context – Tim having founded Mirra – your home ‘cloud’ box prior to Apple.

    Time has come to do it – but I suspect Apple is putting the pieces together. So an alternative tin Android makes sense.

    1. I think this time it might be right ;-)

  4. Impressive team, but Apple remain the best positioned to really disrupt this industry. They have the contacts, the iTunes library and the integration to bring everything together in a way that startups and rivals alike will find tough to match. They may not have the Cable companies locked down yet, but give it time.

  5. Devices are great but without CONTENT it’s just a toy. Consumers need someone with deep pockets (like Apple, Amazon, Google) to buy big movie libraries or movies houses and stream it for a cheap monthly charge. Netflix’s doesn’t have the money to do it, and I doubt a starving startup like this will either.

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