Update: The Twettle has gone global! Featured in Wired, The Sun & Metro Newspapers as well as about 100 other sites. Click here to read more
The following post is a blow-by-blow account of our mission to design and manufacture a socially networked kettle that can update to Twitter/Facebook. It’s a bit lengthy, for those of you who can’t be bothered to read it all and just want to look at the pictures, head to the bottom
How it started
Six months ago myself and good friend Ben Perman (3D designer @Beyond) were out in Clapham, trying to get drunk in the wonderful chain bar Vodka Revolution on the high street. Unfortunately our attempts were disrupted by a barman who had never served a drink or given the correct change to anyone in his entire life before that day.
During the 40 minute wait for the creation of 3 drinks and a shot, we began a conversation about how we could make some Google-style moneyz, or at least enough to buy a boat and a few steak dinners. After several ridiculous (and slightly illegal) ideas, I suggested to Ben that we needed to exploit some trends while we had the chance, number one on the list – Twitter.
Sadly like 95% of my friends, Ben did not use Twitter. This presented quite a challenge considering I was asking him to put his time and money into an idea based around a service he barely knew. If I could sell the concept to Ben, then surely I could win over the Twitter massive?
One of my strongest predictions for the near future is that we’ll start using devices and services that automatically contribute to our ‘life stream’ more and more. Whether it’s updating your Foursquare account whenever you use your Oyster Card or the TV remote that updates Twitter to tell followers what you’re watching – it’s clear that we’re going to need help constantly telling others what we’re doing.
But how could we jump on this bandwagon? I started to like the sound of Twittering hardware, if we could cheaply and effectively produce the tech that enabled any manufacturers device to seamlessly ‘talk’ to open APIs (i.e Twitter, Facebook and more) then we would be onto something.
However making a circuit board with some fancy firmware wasn’t very exciting, both me and Ben come from creative backgrounds and wanted to get our teeth stuck into this a bit more. This technology needed to come to life within a working product. Something we could design, play with and eventually sell in shops.
The bit where we decide to make it a kettle.
We needed to move quickly and decide on a product, a Google search revealed the tweeting toilet (yes, really), toaster and washing machine hacks. While this showed that others were thinking about the same sort of stuff, no one had productized it yet which was a good sign.
What blatant Firebox-bait could we produce that would go down well with the main Twitter demographic (not teens). There was only one answer to this question.
Yes tea, the cornerstone of British culture. We would bring tea making into the future, tea 2.0, by creating… a tweeting kettle. This would be the perfect shell for our fancy circuit board technology.
The kettle would connect to the local wi-fi network and automatically tweet when it had boiled. Pretty simple. For example:
It could also do some other fun stuff like tweet the energy usage and tea/coffee drinking statistics. You could even make it boil remotely:
One of my favourite ideas was setting up a Twitter profile especially for the kettle. Office workers could follow their kitchen kettle and be alerted when it had boiled via SMS/Tweetdeck. (Imagine how useful SMS feature will be once our technology gets into washing machines and ovens).
Now I’d like to pretend that the naming process was more complex than it was but basically it was a choice between Twittle and Twettle. It was tough but the Twittle.com domain had already been taken so…..behold! The Twettle was born! (although we refer to it as Twattle in private)
Ben was nodding his head in agreement at the whole thing, but I had the feeling that he wasn’t sure why the hell someone would want with a twittering kettle. It was time to blind him with some statistics.
It’s no secret that micro-blogging updates are generally mundane. A recent study analysed 400,000 messages on Jaiku (Twitter competitor) and found the top 5 most frequent postings are “working,” “home,” “work,” “lunch,” and “sleeping.”
The same applies on Twitter, the pressure to constantly update your feed means that you can’t always dish out pearls of wisdom and conversation starters. It’s about the little things that make up your day right? The Twettle would fit right in.
Age is just as important, the bulk of Twitter users are between 25 – 44 according to Comscore, so more disposable income to purchase our novelty product. Oh and over 165,000,000 cups of tea are consumed in the UK every. single. day. Ben was sold.
Design and Build
Now the fun part – design and build. My job was to figure out how it would work and who would make it, Bens task was to design based on the specs.
Neither of us had ever designed a product before, but Ben is a pretty badass 3D visualiser, he can make programs like Vectorworks dance and has designed stores for big brands in places like Westfield so I knew it wouldn’t end up looking like The Homer.
Common sense applied, we knew that using chrome would make the kettle expensive to produce so we went for good old plastic. It would also need some status lights for data, power, etc, like the ones on a router. The Wi-Fi module would be placed into the coreless base.
Ben cracked on with the design while I tried to find someone to make it. After some dead end Skype calls to China, I came across the guys at AB Integration based in Elephant & Castle in London. They were extremely knowledgeable and friendly, I knew straight off that they were the right company to make the tech.
I wanted the kettle to be really simple to set up, no CDs, USB or downloads. This is pretty difficult with Wi-Fi devices because a world of open, password-free wireless networks doesn’t exist, meaning that it won’t be able to ‘talk’ to you out of the box. How do you get around this?
My initial idea was to power up the kettle then connect to its IP address over Wi-Fi using your PC and router. This would then take you into a set up page (stored in the kettle memory) where you could set things like the WEP key for your network, Twitter username and password etc.
However, AB Integration pointed out this wasn’t possible, a device must be connected to a network before you can access it via IP. The way around this was building a USB port into it, meaning it would also need installation software.
This put a spanner in the works, what use was this technology that allows any device to speak to the internet if it required everything to have a USB attachment? A kettle can be easily be taken to a PC and hooked up, but what if this technology was in larger items like washing machines and fridges?
Aha! But what if we put a small input screen on the base allowing the user to select their network and, if necessary, enter a WEP key. That way the technology could live on any device and it would allow manufacturers to utilise screens they already had (like the ones of microwaves and washing machines). Plus you could also use it to indicate whether you’re having tea or coffee and the boil temperature can change to the optimal settings. Apparently coffee is best with water at 92 – 96C.
AB Integration sent us a dozen different screens to choose from, some only cost £2-3, which doesn’t seem like much…until you manufacturer 10,000 units. I would have loved to get a iPod style rollerwheel on there but the price would have soared.
The physical components that do all the work (i.e talk to Twitter) inside the kettle comes to the size of a box of matches. Pretty amazing.
I moved onto to designing the user interface which is accessed once you connect to the kettle via Wi-Fi. It would have the basic stuff like Twitter Connect (username, password), custom message for when the kettle has boiled, stats etc. I also wanted to integrate Facebook Connect.
I was also very keen to have some sort of open API for the Twettle so that developers could have fun making mobile and web applications around it. Imagine web apps that could show what parts of the country were making the most tea or how much electricity is being used (or saved) by making tea with the Twettle.
After a few revisions, Ben finished the design for the Twettle (images below). I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a bloody lovely kettle.
AB Integration put us in contact with the ever friendly (and highly recommended) Jonathan Cheung at JC Engineering Solutions to build and prototype the kettle itself.
This is the part where everything fell apart. We assumed that we could get a prototype made and beginning manufacturing within 3 months for less than 8k, oh how wrong we were.
I’ve started several online projects before and it’s never cost me more than a few hundred quid to get going, even if you want to launch your own start-up it can often be done out of a bedroom investing nothing more than your time and money for crate loads of Coca-Cola. But making your own physical product is expensive, like really, really expensive.
The prototype alone would cost a few thousand, but that wasn’t the problem, it’s things like CE Marking, Tooling, Testing, Package Design.. that suddenly added more and more zeros. The time to market also increased, just getting the CE Certification can take up to two months, all in all this would be on the market within 9 months. I immediately started to respect what James Dyson had achieved.
We had to honestly ask ourselves how much people would be willing to pay for the Twettle, £75 seemed like a good price. Keeps it within the novelty gift zone and can be afforded by Twitter lovers. But once we worked out the quantity we would need to order to get the price down to £75 per unit, we were short of around half a million pounds.
Our other option was to order less units but bump the retail price up, this would make each unit £180 which is a bit of a risk because who spends that much on a new kettle when they’ve already got one?
Me and Ben had a long hard think, we needed investment and partnerships. We have some connections to gadget shops and a pretty sound online marketing strategy (spam Twitter). But we laid the idea to rest and carried on with our dull Twettle-free lives. Until I remembered reading about…
Kickstarter.com | Crowdsourced Funding
If you haven’t heard of Kickstarter, you should defo check it out because it’s a brilliant little idea. The site offers an online platform for anyone to raise funding from interested individuals. You keep 100% ownership of your project and idea.
So why do people bother giving others money? The project owner offers incentives for different amounts of funding, for example if someone wants to launch their own money, donating $50 will get you at the premiere, $500 will get your name in the credits and $4000 will get you a part in the movie itself. You can keep contributors updated by text, pictures and videos.
Here’s an example of a slightly more noble project:
Working in mobile marketing you learn lots about incentivising so I’ve got some good ideas of the sorts of things you need to offer people to get involved (money, cake, Twettles).
Kickstarter is in private beta at the moment which means I have to ask special permission to get my project on there. We’ll be looking for around 35-40k worth of funding. Soon as that happens I’ll let you know.
About The Designer
Ben Perman works at a small London based retail design agency called Me, Him and Her as a 3D Designer.
Ben works with brands such as Duck and Cover, Ben Sherman, Penguin, G-Star, Luke and Farah on a wide range of projects, from full retail concepts implemented globally to trade shows, shop in shop concessions, and P.O.S.
Download Link Ben Perman Portfolio PDF (1082)
Ben is always interested in hearing about freelance opportunities. To get in touch with Ben email@example.com or on LinkedIn