Technology is transforming our lives. Taking a constantly growing part in our day to day. It is how we interact with other people; how we manage our time; how we consume our media. I get excited when something new and cool comes along, and so imagine how I felt when almost three years ago I came across this:
Jibo was igniting dreams at a time where the Internet of Things (IoT) was more a buzz word than any significant list of available products. Jibo had it all, it was a connected device acting as an in-home assistant while showing character we often times miss dearly in machines. Its promise, as shown in the video, was two fold: to be useful, through apps/skills such as calendar, reminders, messaging, camera, etc.; and to be a social contributor at home, the “wingman” for a bachelor, educator/friend for a child, friendly assistant for an adult.
Above all else, Jibo had first mover’s advantage. What would now be defined as the voice controlled home assistant market was nowhere to be found. With $2.28MM in crowdfunding (Indiegogo) capital in September 2014, two months before the announcement and launch of the Amazon Echo and Alexa platform, Jibo had the road to greatness paved; so why have most of us never heard of it?
We need to start by telling the story of Jibo; a Boston based startup originating from the research of Cynthia Breazeal, an MIT Media lab professor focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. After gaining massive traction with the crowdfunding campaign, Jibo went on to raise $50MM in 2015, a considerably higher number than originally targeted for series A, per Steven Chambers, Jibo CEO. The original commitment to Indiegogo backers was shipment of Jibos by September of 2015, this date was later pushed back to April 2016, and then again to October 2016, and most recently, to a TBA time in 2017.
In the meanwhile, the competitive landscape changed considerably. Amazon’s Alexa platform, currently arching over three devices and counting (Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap, announced on LG refrigerators) has gone full swing, after a tepid launch and several iterations of software updates, it has captured the interest of the crowd, becoming the most purchased device on Amazon in the holiday season of 2016, apparently selling nine (9) times more devices this holiday season compared to the last, totaling in several millions of devices. More recently, Google has made the leap into the voice activated home assistant market with the widely-advertised launch of Google Home.
At the same time, the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2017), debuted a long line of Jibo look alike home robots, all sporting a very similar shape as Jibo fueled the imagination of multiple designers worldwide.
With all that in mind, one could say that Jibo still has a few visible benefits, with a unique form factor and physical movement, video sensors and display that surpass the leading products that only provide audio, and an attitude, and a good one at that, that is unique in this space. All these can still prove to be appealing to a wide range of customers.
Will this be enough? I believe the answer is no. The home assistant device is a platform, leaning on the efforts of businesses and private developers to launch value creating applications (or skills) that will be hosted on them. While Jibo was hard at work and provided a Software Development Kit (SDK) a long time ago, it’s delay in coming to market have most likely chilled the enthusiasm of the potential members of the ecosystem. In the meanwhile, the huge competition in the market, namely Amazon, has created the Alexa platform that has already accumulated thousands of skills and applications, creating a considerable network effect that will not easily be imitated. Furthermore, Amazon made its smart home assistant platform “injectable” into additional devices, currently partnering with LG to introduce it to home appliances but allowing any and all developers to make it a part of their solutions. Google will sure to follow suit.
The introduction of such wide platforms into the market is bound to create an extremely high barrier to entry that I doubt Jibo in its current form will be able to surpass.