Mycroft and Bad Timing
If you’ve been reading this page for any length of time, you’ve seen me post more than once about Mycroft. At the end of January, Mycroft CEO Michael Lewis let us in on what’s pretty much the end of Mycroft. There were a variety of factors that finally did Mycroft in, but in my opinion the biggest of those facts was just poor timing.
Mycroft launched its initial Kickstarter campaign for the Mark I back in 2015, and followed that successful venture with the Mark II in 2018. People may not remember, but that initial Kickstarter predated the Google Assistant speaker by a full year and wasn’t significantly after Amazon’s Echo device first premiered. That means Mycroft was hitting the market at what seemed like a great time.
Narrator: It wasn’t.
I want to state for the record that this wasn’t something I think the people at Mycroft could have predicted. They didn’t make perfect decisions over the years, but there was a lot of stuff that happened that they just couldn’t have foreseen. After Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and even Apple jumped into the market. They used their already overflowing coffers to push products to the market faster than a small company in Kansas City couldn’t hope to match. Further, they often sold them at a loss to get them into people’s homes. Of course, they expected to get their money back other ways, but that’s pretty much irrelevant.
Then came COVID, and with it a variety of different issues that impacted Mycroft. At almost the exact same time as a global pandemic, Mycroft was attacked by a patent troll.
In the end, it was a death by a thousand cuts. Mycroft wasn’t completely innocent here either. They made some bad decisions that ended up costing them plenty. The Kickstarter funding they got was gone before they ever produced the first Mark II.
Now in the present day, it seems two things are again happening simultaneously. Mycroft is going not so slowly out of business and many of the big players in the smart speaker market are deprioritizing their assistants. It’s been reported that Amazon will lose approximately $10 billion this year on Alexa with the company laying off an estimated 10,000 people. Samsung and Microsoft’s offerings have all but disappeared. Google is reducing support for their Assistant and laying off an estimated 12,000 people. Not all of those people were from their Assistant division, but it wasn’t without impact. They’ve even ceased support of third-party hardware for their Assistant. Apple is rumored to be making some “major” changes to Siri in the next year, but they’ve never really competed in the market with the likes of Google and Amazon.
So, with the gift of hindsight, it seems as if 2015 wasn’t the best time to be getting into this market. I feel like that time is now. Amazon and Google have had plenty of time to realize that they’re not going to get hordes of people handing over their money, and they’ve done things that have opened people’s eyes to privacy concerns that come with those players. A smart speaker based on open source software that protects your privacy feels like a much easier sale right now.
Unfortunately Mycroft is gone, or might as well be. Even if they did manage to rouse themselves and rise to the challenge, it would be difficult to trust them again. Too many people were burned by their Kickstarter rewards that never materialized. Despite this, we could still benefit from the years of development done by them and the people around them. Their offering is open source after all, and Mycroft has been picked up by others in the form of OVOS and Neon. They’re not the only players either. The only thing they’re missing is a stand-alone device that sits on your deskt that’s easy to use. Neon runs without effort on the latest Mark II hardware, so there’s that.
I feel like this is another perfect opportunity for someone like Pine64 to jump in. They’ve got the hardware experience to put out something quickly and inexpensively, and there’s several different software options already that could run on their device. All they need is the motivation to do it. Here’s hoping they’ll find it.
Day 6 of the #100DaysToOffload Series.
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