The Hardware Renaissance

Paul Graham:

One advantage of Y Combinator's early, broad focus is that we see trends before most other people. And one of the most conspicuous trends in the last batch was the large number of hardware startups. Out of 84 companies, 7 were making hardware. On the whole they've done better than the companies that weren't.

They've faced resistance from investors of course. Investors have a deep-seated bias against hardware. But investors' opinions are a trailing indicator. The best founders are better at seeing the future than the best investors, because the best founders are making it.

From personal experience, hardware startups are definitely undergoing a well-deserved renaissance.

Investors are, indeed, somewhat apprehensive. Most tend to default to recommendations of Kickstart-ing a project, rather than pursuing venture capital. But, steadily over the past few months, there's been a marked transition in the typical investor's mindset.

Cautious intrigue has replaced caustic uncertainty and, as a result, there are some truly phenomenal hardware projects being undertaken all over the world. As we've seen in the software industry, startups — and the disruption they encourage — have a keen propensity for upsetting established norms and creating phenomenal new levels of competition.

For the hardware industry — a space so often characterized by monopolizing giants — I couldn't be happier that the tide is turning.

LTE Devices with Sustainable Battery Life

This afternoon, Dan Frommer has taken a look at Nilay Patel's review of the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx (what a name) and highlighted a particularly interesting excerpt:

In general use, I found that the Maxx would run for about a day and a half to two days without a charge if I used it normally. It also stood up to far more intense use: I spent about two hours tethered to LTE data on a trip to DC from New York, used the phone during the day, and tethered for another two hours on the way back, and still had about a quarter of a charge left.

In response, Dan writes:

I think it’s safe to say we’ll see the first LTE iPhones this year.

Honestly, implications for Apple aside, I'm just impressed that Motorola has been able to squeeze some decent battery out of an LTE device. Given the repeatedly documented disaster of LTE in Android phones over the past year or so, I had ostensibly come to the conclusion that LTE inefficiency was not going to be solved by any Android phone manufacturer. It's not that they don't have the capacity, it's more that none seem to have any moral obligation toward marketing their devices as game-changing, earth-shattering devices, despite their patently awful battery life. As such, why admonish their own devices with a new phone with a marketable feature of "acceptable battery, for once?"

Granted, Motorola's solution lacks any particular panache, with the manufacturer choosing to, as Patel writes, "almost as though on a whim" slap on a high capacity 3300 mAh battery. The solution - ugly and basic as it may be - is unquestionably effective, with Patel's tests demonstrating a doubling of battery life under even the most "intense" of tests. In standard use, Patel discovered borderline mythical battery life for LTE Android devices.

Back in December, reflecting upon Shawn Blanc's testing of the Galaxy Nexus and the truly appalling nature of LTE power consumption, I wrote:

Although I believe LTE is the future, the technology should simply not be present in its current form as a defining, advertised feature. If you expect to have a useable device, LTE entirely undercuts your hopes, and relegates your phone's potential connection speeds to isolated and inconvenient situations.

Motorola's solution is surprisingly simple in its execution. Simple to the point that I cannot help but wonder why no other Android manufacturer has done this yet? Credit where credit's due, I'm genuinely shocked that Motorola seems to have found an acceptable solution and acted upon it. In doing so, Motorola has thoroughly defeated my spectacularly low expectations. Accordingly, Frommer's assertion regarding Apple's adoption of LTE over the course of 2012 appears all the more viable. Although I doubt Apple will stoop to the whimsical implementation of a form-factor-shattering battery, I imagine Motorola's success is indicative of a collective industry focus upon efficiency, thereby rendering Apple's chances for success in the area that much higher. With its penchant for design and efficiency, Apple will not implement LTE until technology facilitates its power-friendly existence, and that certainly seems to be far more attainable now than it was six months ago.

As an aside, Motorola's apparent concern for battery life bodes well for its impending absorption into Google. As Google begins to spin up toward hardware production, Motorola's evident care for efficiency married with Google's concern for the integrity of the Android OS, hints at the potential for an efficient, Google-branded LTE device for 2012.

As I write on a seemingly weekly schedule, competition, and any innovation therein, is certainly a good thing. Furthermore, any advance with regard to LTE power efficiency is certainly not a bad thing, no matter how inelegant the solution may be.

Google Hardware On the Horizon

Rounding off a thoroughly Google-filled day, Amir Efrati reports for The Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. is developing a home-entertainment system that streams music wirelessly throughout the home and would be marketed under the company's own brand, according to people briefed on the company's plans.

Although a Google-branded stereo certainly seems an odd choice, I imagine it's merely the first step for Google. On the cusp of having its Motorola acquisition approved, Google is evidently shoring up plans for expansion into hardware production, strengthened by Motorola's patent library. By introducing a stereo system, no matter the relevance, Google will announce its entrance into the hardware industry, and it will likely alert competitors in a variety of fields.

Rumors have persisted in recent months and years regarding Google-branded devices leveraging the Search giant's various services. Whether it's a Google-branded tablet, streaming device, or music system, Google's apparently impending introduction into the hardware business lends a large amount of credibility to formerly dismissed rumors.

Considering the veritably chaotic Android device market and the Google TV quagmire, Google-branded devices may well provide some semblance of stability to an otherwise volatile market. Although Efrati writes only of a music system, rest assured, this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

As M.G. Siegler concludes, "Google is getting into hardware."