Pando

Berg, maker of the Little Printer, shuts down after failed bid to connect Internet of Things companies

By Nathaniel Mott , written on September 9, 2014

From The News Desk

The company behind the Little Printer, an Internet-connected miniature printer that makes the day's forecasts, important news, and crosswords available on receipt paper, is shutting down.

Matt Webb, the chief executive of the design consultancy that made the Little Printer, announced the shutdown in a blog post this morning. The company will maintain a "skeleton crew" to keep the Little Printer business running until it can be sold or salvaged by sharing its foundations.

It might seem like this is little more than a novelty startup shutting down after its fad product -- who really needs a small, Internet-connected printer? -- lost traction, but it's more than that. Berg was attempting to build a platform that would connect various Internet-enabled devices; if it succeeded, the Internet of Things might have gone from fragmented mess to cohesive whole.

I wrote about one of Berg's efforts to create this unified Internet of Things when the company first announced Sandbox, a program meant to make it easier for companies and researchers working on connected devices to collaborate with each other and share their findings, last May. Fittingly enough, given today's event, I actually compared it to Apple's developer conference:

Sandbox, then, is meant to further connected devices and the Internet of Things by encouraging companies to share their findings with one another. This is akin to software developers sharing code so that others don’t have to reinvent the metaphorical wheel, or hardware companies allowing others to use designs and technology deemed standards-essential.

Other organizations, such as the Internet of Things Consortium, have already attempted to convince connected device makers to communicate with each other — the difference with Sandbox, Webb says, is that Berg is supplying the infrastructure to develop these products as well as the place they may share information. It’s a bit like Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which is important not just because it often serves as a launchpad for new products and services, but because it encourages the people working in Apple’s ecosystem to communicate with Apple and their peers. Webb explains in his blog post that Berg simply couldn't reach "a sustainable business in connected products," so the vision of a united Internet of Things -- or at least one made possible by Berg's products -- is being cast aside in favor of salvaging the Little Printer. Perhaps it's easier to convince people to buy a novelty item than to unite a fractured ecosystem.

That's a shame, because I for one was excited about the promise of Berg's Sandbox:

Connected devices are the most exciting when they communicate with one another, coordinating their signals and functions to evolve beyond something that is simply connected to the Internet and into a truly “smart” platform. Sandbox is Berg’s way of saying that the companies making these products would also benefit from sharing information instead of keeping it all to themselves. Connecting the connected device makers, if you will.
Now we're one step further away from connecting the connectors, if you will, despite the mounting interest in connected devices. The problem of interoperability and the sharing of knowledge between connected device makers will be solved eventually -- keeping devices separate is too frustrating for the problem to go unsolved -- but Berg won't be doing the solving.