Given the nature of the applications that our customers develop, we don’t typically run into competitive situations where Critical Link System on Modules (SoMs) are going head to head with products like BeagleBone. For those not familiar with BeagleBone, it’s open-source hardware, a single-board computer based on a TI SoC. For the most part, BeagleBone has been aimed at the academic market, tinkerers, prototypers – folks who aren’t bringing out solutions that actually make it into production. This is in pretty sharp contrast to our typical customer, who’s bringing a complex, high-value application to market. And our customers are typically in an industry – medical and scientific instrumentation, defense, transportation, manufacturing – where quality and product stability are paramount.
Nonetheless, we’re always interested in what BeagleBone’s up to, and a recent blog post by Jason Kridner, which discusses the production problems that BeagleBone’s run into with its relatively new BeagleBone Black, got me thinking about why our customers choose Critical Link.
Our SoMs are built for applications that matter, and we provide a very high level of support. So when our customers have problems, they bring them to our technical staff. We provide 100% support at the board level, and also provide quite a bit of help in other areas as well, such as with the processor and Linux questions, even though we aren’t necessarily obligated to.
We also pay a lot of attention to product longevity. Our customers aren’t building products that get redesigned every year. (I can’t imagine being a cell phone manufacturer) We understand that our customers’ products are going to be in production for long time – typically 10 to 15 years. We’ll support them throughout their product lifecycle, and won’t be forcing unwanted hardware revisions or software updates on them.
It’s also interesting to think about what happens when the commercial needs of a company collide with the demands of a more mass market – e.g., those enrolled in a Georgia Tech MOOC course on controlling robots. That Georgia Tech MOOC is one of the reasons that BeagleBone has been grappling with a production capacity problem, imagine wrapping your product around a product that all of a sudden can’t be bought!
I am by no means a BeagleBone basher. I’m all for anything that gets engineering students and tinkerers building stuff. I’m really happy that BeagleBone has contributed to the success of the AM335x for TI. I also like it that so many folks are going hands-on, playing with the hardware and not just fooling around with designing UI’s. (Not that I’m bashing UI designers here, either.)
And I give BeagleBone plenty of credit for being so candid about the problems they’ve been having.
What’s interesting here is seeing the serious challenges that come with ramping up to support a production environment – logistics management, lifecycle product support, availability, product stability, and, maybe the most important one of all: quality. Gearing up for a less than mass market may not be as simple a matter as one might think.