OK, this is a weird one. Well over two years ago now, there was a Kickstarter for a watch. Not just any old watch, or even a smart watch, just the thinnest one in the world. It’s 0.8mm thin, or, for you non-metric types, 0.00315 inches. All it does is tell the time. So, I plonked down my $99 as one of the original backers and pretty much forgot about it, as I do with anything I back on Kickstarter.
For those not in the know, Kickstarter is a site that helps people gather money (that is, backers) and kickstart some project they want to do. Now obviously for them to get backers, the people devising the project have to work out how much they want, record a video to entice others to back them, and hope that over the course of a month, they get enough backers to reach their goal. Kickstarter do all the logistics of registering backers and collecting the money they want to invest. If the project reaches its goal, Kickstarter take their cut, and the rest of the money goes to the project owners. At that point they go ahead and complete the project and hand over to the backers whatever rewards they’d promised as part of the investment. Of course, if the monetary goal is not met, no one gets anything and the backers don’t pay out.
The big thing to understand is that Kickstarter is not an online store: you aren’t buying the product. You are backing the project to make the product, and, as a reward, if it succeeds, you get a copy of the product. If it fails then tough. You curse perhaps, and move on.
The CST-01 watch
Over the years, more so in the past than these days, I’ve backed a few technology projects, things like Snappgrip, Brydge, and so on, at the level where I’d receive one of the items as my “reward”. I’ve even backed books and the like. In my opinion, most of the technology items turned out to be meh, to be honest. As an example, Snappgrip (a snap-on camera controller for iPhones) turned out to be too cumbersome and flaky: it was easier to just use the iPhone camera as normal. But the CST-01, the thin watch, seemed to be better than those and usable to boot, so I backed it. In fact, it was so popular there were 7,658 backers pledging $1,026,292 (the original goal being $200K).
One of the things I learned about the technology kickstarters is that producing the final object, whatever it may be, takes way longer than the project owners originally thought. So, as I said, I forgot about it after backing it. In the early days of the project, we backers would get fairly regular project updates by email and published on the Kickstarter site, and I’d peruse them and move on.
Until the updates dried up. We heard nothing more.
Finally, two years after backing it, I got a box in the mail in February, this year. Inside was my CST-01 watch. Nice! They’d pulled though. I plugged it into the charger for a few hours, and then put it on. It’s a bit weird at first since it’s essentially a wide bracelet, but after a while you forget it’s on. There’s enough flex in the materials so slip it on and take it off, and it gently grips your wrist. The time display is an e-ink display, like on Kindle e-readers, with a special designed-for-the-watch numeric font.
Unfortunately, after just over an hour, the watch stopped. I recharged it again, thinking I hadn’t given it enough time. Again, after an hour unplugged from the charger, the watch stopped. Perfect time plugged in, worked for an hour unplugged.
I politely emailed the project owners stating that I had a defective copy, that perhaps the battery inside (and think about how thin that battery has to be) was faulty. They asked me to send it back and they’d replace it.
Except that was when the whole project seemed to fall apart. They’d only managed to build a couple of hundred copies of the watch and, essentially, had run out of cash. The manufacturing quality was such that around one out of every two watches was coming out faulty. In essence, rather than costing roughly $100 per watch, it was nearer $300. The project folded. The Kickstarter comment thread for the watch then exploded. Personally, I just wrote it off; after all it was now over two years ago that I’d paid out $99 and it wasn’t like I needed it back. Shrug, oh well.
The Consumerist published an article on the whole kerfuffle (Watch Company Collects $1 Million On Kickstarter, Spends It All, Then Hides), as did the New York Observer (Did the Creators of a $1M Kickstarter Botch Production or Blow the Cash on Mojitos?).
Then last week, while I was away in The Hague in the Netherlands, a box arrived at home. I unpacked it on Sunday when I got back and it was a replacement CST-01. The one in the photo. I put it on to charge overnight and it has been keeping perfect time ever since. I even noticed that it flashes when it’s the top of the hour. It fits nicely, although it feels a little too tight now – maybe I put on weight since I first measured my wrist to decide which size to order as a reward.
I don’t know why I got one (well, OK, two) when so many have not. I’m nonplussed at it all, but I’m guessing that I now have an extremely rare timepiece, one of just a couple of hundred.