hacking, interface, open source

Being ‘hacked’ == cool?

I really have to pick up a theme that Julian posted in his prior post, because I am the skeptical guy here. “Opening up” companies products by re-engineering them is a delicate topic. From a hackers perspective it is done because technology that involves some mystery is sexy for their intellect. So why not give it a go and demystify things, these companies can’t be that smart I am not going to understand how their product works. But it is not just that. Today’s consumer electronics come to market at an ultra low price. Almost too cheap to buy all the components by yourself and assemble them. So hacking is also an economic consideration.

There are currently three main competitors in the console market Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft and all of them provide cheap sexy hardware so that all three platforms have been hacked and opened up for homebrew software. But things go further. It is not just the consoles that get “hacked” but also the interfaces, because they became more attractive the more intelligent as our old button based interfaces. Where are the challenges to hack a button? It really has to be a bit more challenging.

The WiiMote was possibly the first mass produced interface that had more than the average amount of actuators and sensors embedded than the rest of interfaces available to the market. The complexity is much higher than a simple joystick, but the price is nearly the same.

The Kinect, picked up Nintendo’s whole body interaction success and updated the xBox with new 3D sensing capabilities.

So what about Sony? Well, they updated the already existent EyeToy Camera + Ps3 combination with the PS Move controller. A really cheap solution for getting in line with the main rivals Nintendo and Microsoft. However, there is a more sophisticated controller from Sony which should attract more hackers, because it is currently unclear how it works. But strangely it is still un-hacked. Is it just un-cool or did the engineers at Sony just do a better job to protect their interface?

I am talking about the GunCon3.  It has similar functionality like the WiiMote and some claim it is even more precise than the WiiMote, but strangely it is not hacked yet. So what is the reason for that? Maybe it is the price. Here in UK the GunCon3 is 10 quid more expensive than the WiiMote and its far less widespread than the WiiMote. So here is the million dollar question: Could Sony by “opening up” the hardware make some more cash out of it or is it more profitable to leave the product catch dust in the department store shelves?

We can compare that a bit to the Apple theme Julian mentioned. In a commercial sense Apple is doing the right thing. Innovating, but restrict free access as hell and at the same time exploiting the open market of  App makers.

So here are my answers:

Q: “What does this tell us about how companies can profit from “hacked” or rather “open” products?”
A: “Nothing. We can not judge the cases, because we have not reviewed sales figures. However, when a companies IP gets “stolen” they could adapt to the situation like companies that have hardware on the market that does not sell. In the case of Sony (or NAMCO’s) Guncon3 we can clearly tell that “opening up” would be a rather bad management strategy.”

Q: “Isn’t all the buzz about the Kinect the best thing that could have happened to Microsoft?”
A: “There are a few companies and individuals that profited from the buzz. Especially PrimeSense, OpenNi, Johnny Chung Lee, the DIY people, etc. Microsoft? No.”

Q: “Shouldn’t that make other companies think about how they see their products? And especially rethink the restrictions they impose on their customers (yes, I’m looking in your direction here, Mr. Apple!)?”
A: “I think people will change their thinking about products in the future and companies will have to adapt when they figure out that sale figures have gone down. But that is nothing new. The problem is, that people will have to think about useage licenses of every product in the future and this will be the biggest pain I believe.”

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