Next Steps for the Dash Development Board
Last week was a great week. Ryan and the team announced our new pricing along with a number of new dashboard features (/blog/introducing-new-cellular-features-and-pricing-editions). Among the details, Hologram is the first to offer a cellular SLA in North America and the only provider that offers global coverage for the new 4G M1 and NB standards. The team has been working tirelessly on this release, and I could not be more proud.Chris also wrote a post highlighting our network's broad hardware compatibility (/supported-hardware). We're planning to expand this list as well as our relationships with hardware manufacturers.As Hologram continues to grow, we test our assumptions. Just as all startups do we iterate as a hypothesis is proven or disproven. Usually, our iterations come in the form of good news for our customers (such as last week). Unfortunately, today Hologram is announcing we will no longer be manufacturing the Dash Development Board. Our decision was based on comparing the Dash's usage and market adoption relative to the cost to develop, manufacture, and maintain.While we will cease to manufacture Dashes ourselves, we will continue to provide the OTA update endpoint and associated hosted APIs up until May 31st, 2019 (12 months) while we work with the community to determine the best course of action for developing and providing Dash support going forward.
Photo of SIM
From the beginning our mission has been to create the best connectivity experience possible; to fuel the growing wave of internet connected machines by providing an internet connection suited for those machines and making it easy for developers to implement. With this decision, Hologram is doubling down on our mission. We’ll be refocusing our efforts towards supporting and improving our Connectivity product, which includes the Hologram Cloud and the rest of the Connectivity product family: Dashboard, Usage and Billing Administration, Data Engine, Webhooks and Integrations, Hologram APIs, and Spacebridge Beta. This news about the Dash is probably a shock to some. In this blog post, I’d like to unpack why we decided to stop manufacturing, what we’re doing to make things right for those who were developing with it, and the future of the Dash as a community initiative.
What is the Dash
Currently, the majority of Hologram customers use the Hologram SIM with 3rd party hardware. If you’re one of those customers who does not use the Dash, you might be wondering what it is? For those who have used it, this is a trip down memory lane.
Photo of SIM hardware
In 2015 we announced a Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/konekt/konekt-dash-cellular-dev-kit-free-global-data-plan) for a cellular microcontroller development board called the Dash. The campaign was a success (although not huge) and marked the birth of the Dash. It went on to become a development tool for thousands of developers around the world. Over the years we iterated through 7 revisions and 3 version releases - 1.0 (2015), 1.1 (2016), 1.2 (2017).If you know Hologram's history, we founded the company in 2013 under the name Konekt, Inc. Our primary product was the same as it is today, enterprise-level cellular connectivity for IoT. By 2015 we were in business for two years and had data showing the number one barrier to integrating cellular in IoT projects was access to quality development hardware. With this data, we created the Dash v1.0. Now in 2018 that is no longer the case with new cellular development boards popping up nearly every month.
Why We Stopped Manufacturing the Dash
Hologram has never restricted what hardware a customer was allowed to use on our network. If a modem is compatible with one of our carrier partners in an area (/pricing/coverage), then it can connect. As such, the Dash had to find its place in the market among other great cellular development hardware. Because of our open network and the increase of quality development boards we've seen the Dash's usage drop. Matched with the cost and effort of manufacturing such a board it has become unfeasible to continue manufacturing.
Photo of Hologram Nova
We have also continued to introduce new prototyping hardware such as the Hologram Nova (/products/nova). The Nova enjoys a very strong market, and we plan to keep manufacturing it and updating the SDK. Where the Dash was too expensive to manufacture at scale, the Nova is much more cost effective and consistent with our goal of providing open hardware that is not locked to a specific cloud or provider. In fact, we have thousands more rolling off the production line within the next couple months including a variant that supports 4G Cat-M1 and NB.Since the Dash's inception, our hypothesis was it would enable customers to prototype quicker, prove their product met a need, and then go to scale with a custom solution. Positive community feedback with Dash hardware sales confirmed our hypothesis. For nearly 3 years we continued to refine the design and develop firmware features. As it stands today, I feel the Dash is one the most secure and robust Cellular MCU developer boards. I'm proud of our work and even prouder we decided to open our designs to the open-source community (/guides/open-sourced-hardware).
Clever image of Open Source shaking hands with Hologram
As the cellular hardware space matured, we have seen new developer boards enter the market. Now it's very common for us to see a wide range of new development boards get deployed to our network each month. Some of the boards customers are developing with include Adafruit's FONA family (https://www.adafruit.com/category/281), Arduino's MKR GSM 1400 (https://store.arduino.cc/usa/mkr-gsm-1400), Pycom's gPy (https://pycom.io/product/gpy/) and FiPy (https://pycom.io/product/fipy/), and the new Botletics's 4G shield (https://www.botletics.com/products/sim7000-shield). Now that users have other options we have decided to transition resources dedicated to the Dash to focus on the next best thing for cellular IoT while these manufacturers focus on doing what they do best which is hardware.
What is next for the Dash?
Over the years the Dash has cultivated a passionate community of developers. Here is what we're doing for this group.For all business customers who have integrated the Dash into their solution, our business team has reached out and started to offer specialized support. Since the Dash is open-sourced (https://github.com/HologramEducation?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=dash) companies have the ability to manufacture their own or transition to another piece of hardware. Both of which we are offering extended support.For all Dash customers, we’ll offer deprecated OTA (Over-the-Air Update) services for the next twelve months (May 31st, 2019). After the twelve months are over the Dash will continue to work as usual except without OTA.We're open-sourcing all of our resources around manufacturing the Dash (https://github.com/HologramEducation/dash-hardware/issues/1) so anyone could manufacture it independently. Our Dash Github Repositories (https://github.com/HologramEducation?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=dash) contain all the design, firmware, and manufacturing resources one would need.As an example of independent manufacturing, we’ve worked with the team at MacroFab to provide everyone access to quality Contract Manufacturing. Simply upload the Dash's design files (https://github.com/HologramEducation/dash-hardware/tree/master/Gerber) as a zip and select an 8 layer board in MacroFab's interface.
Screenshot of Dash
What is next for Hologram?
Just like any other company we evaluate the viability of our product lines on an ongoing basis. And, for any of those concerned, our decision to discontinue the Dash is in large part due to the success of our Connectivity business. As this business has grown, the opportunity cost of splitting our focus between Connectivity and the Dash has increased. On top of that, many great alternatives to the Dash have come to market, and we feel that many of these teams (some of who we know personally) are better poised to deliver and support a world-class developer board experience than us. We believe our strength lies in adherence to our mission and plan to shift resources from the Dash to Connectivity. This will allow us better support our customers and continue to strive towards creating a magical, global connectivity experience suitable for developers and multi-national enterprises alike.Our launch of Hologram Professional Edition is the beginning of that; expect more to come :)