Summary:

The creators behind Poppy, a $39-device that turns your iPhone into a 3D video camera, are thinking much bigger than Poppy. They want to build a business to make building hardware as easy as building software.

Poppy founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry with a Poppy device.
photo: Stacey Higginbotham

Two guys with visions of the old-school View-Master toy in their heads have launched Poppy, a $39 project on Kickstarter that aims to turn your iPhone into a 3D video camera. You can also insert the phone into the plastic enclosure to watch 3-D content or pop on a pair of 3D glasses and view Poppy-generated content on normal screens in 3D. I played with this thing last week and I can tell you, it is fun. But is it a business?

If I had an iPhone I would support this project simply for the value of letting my 6-year-old play with 3D photography and filming. You could make 3D Vines or Instagram videos! As I viewed the pre-recorded content I was actively moving my head trying to follow the mountain climbers dropping off the cliff or getting out of the way of the guy on a Segway heading straight toward me. And while $39 is pricey, it’s not crazy money for what is essentially a toy.

poppy
So as Poppy shows, hardware is fun, but after you make a production run, what does the business look like? The rash of Kickstarter and Indigogo projects launching to make connected watches, connected toys and game consoles illustrate how much fun people are having thanks to cheaper hardware and the opening up of platforms to help these nascent devices find a market. But then what?

Joe Heitzeberg, a co-founder of Poppy has similar questions. In a conversation with him and co-founder Ethan Lowry last week we discussed how to build a lasting business around the hardware movement. That’s what they are trying to do with their company Hack Things. In many cases, Poppy is their attempt to learn the ropes and gain some street cred when it comes to building physical goods. And sure, it may be a wild success, or even just a mild success, but the two are thinking bigger.

“We’re thinking about how to make a guild for the hardware movement,” said Heitzeberg while Lowry described it as an equivalent of the graphical user interface for computers for hardware developers. This might sound a bit esoteric, but it’s important. The two are trying to figure out how to codify and automate the processes around building a product.

The Poppy box uses mirrors to combine the split-screens of the video into a 3-D image.

The Poppy box uses mirrors to combine the split-screens of the video into a 3D image.

Right now getting from idea to a design that can be manufactured is still more about experience acquired while doing, as opposed to simply clicking a button on a web site. What these two are after is finding a methodology for eliminating some of the friction associated with physical goods. They’re doing that by creating processes that let people with an idea move from idea to product as seamlessly as possible.

It’s kind of like Heroku took some of the pain of dealing with infrastructure on Amazon Web Services away for mobile app developers. Or to move into the physical world, it’s akin to what Fabsie is trying to do with semi custom furniture that’s manufactured on-demand or what Transcriptic is attempting with a web-based ordering system for biological research processes conducted at their lab in Menlo Park.

Sure, it’s wonky and kind of crazy to think I might one day click my way through a series of parts to come up with the device that I have envisioned in my head, but it’s not impossible. So even if Poppy is a gimmick that doesn’t move the needle in the consumer product world, its creators have big plans to make building hardware more like building software.

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