Neeo Founder Raphael Oberholzer Responds to Mixed ‘Reviews’ of Remote Control
Neeo's Oberholzer takes issue with CE Pro's coverage of software glitches reported by Kickstarter backers who waited 2.5 years for the much-ballyhooed remote control and home-automation system.
Neeo, the great Kickstarter wonder of January 2015, began shipping its remote control and home-automation hub to backers in October 2017. CE Pro gathered up early feedback on the product, and concluded from a large survey of disgruntled users that Neeo hardware was solid, but the software came up short.
Neeo founder Raphael Oberholzer responded to the article with disappointment (not surprisingly), suggesting it was unfair to "review" the product without thoroughly understanding the company's roadmap. He explained early backers would expect some imperfections in the first go-around (as I explained to readers), and suggested Neeo should be lauded (as I did) for responding so quickly to bugs and requests submitted by users.
Indeed, Neeo does seem to be fixing issues at a rapid clip, as I wrote. Wayward IR codes might be fixed or added in a day. Little bugs could be discovered in one day and patched the next. It's full steam ahead for Neeo developers.
I invited Raphael to publish his response on cepro.com, and he accepted after making a few revisions to the original. It is posted below, with minor editing for grammar.
As I told Raphael earlier, ordinarily we would write about new products and companies with their roadmap in mind. But this was not an "ordinary" case.
This was from the point of view of a critical consumer or dealer who would’ve been curious about the shipping product, given the 2.5-year wait and all the buzz.
Neeo unquestionably has been the darling of every trade show – crowded booths, lots of buzz, two years of excitement and eager anticipation among the install community. With that and the fact that Neeo broke all Kickstarter records at the time, and won prestigious design awards … yes, users’ first impressions of the product, your responses to these impressions, and the support and Website available at shipping -- are absolutely an important story.
Had there been no big money-raise, no great promises to consumers and installers (and the press), no grandiose claims, then first impressions would be a non-story. The world would wait until Neeo gained some traction and improved its software, and then proper reviewers would review it understanding all the caveats and the future direction of the company.
But that’s not what happened here. Neeo made many bold claims pre-shipping, without tempering expectations by ship date. Yes, these were early backers, and this would not be final software, but they were super-excited for the long-anticipated palm recognition, Zigbee, IR learning, IP control, Nest integration, and all the other features so trumpeted by Neeo since Day 1.
As many backers acknowledged, they did not expect a perfect version right out of the gate -- software can almost always be fixed -- but after 2.5 years of waiting, and a whole lot of audacious promises from the startup, they were expecting more.
They certainly enjoyed a big wow effect when the package finally arrived, with an unboxing experience rivaling the best of the most image-conscious brands. Neeo comes in quite the packaging -- a stark and sturdy black box with a bevy of beautiful things inside. The big reveal is the beautiful aluminum remote, a hallmark of the Neeo brand and its promise. Below, delicately coiled cables and accessories are revealed in adorable pull-out drawers reminiscient of a multilevel music box.
And so that’s the backdrop of the first story, as I explained to Raphael: Would this fabulous, game-changing product live up to the self-generated hype after 2.5 years?!
Posting on Planet Neeo, one vocal user echoed the sentiment of many others when he explained the issue was not with the product and its potential per se, but with the setting of expectations that were way too optimistic:
The frustration, it appears was more about expectations versus reality than anything else. One regular contributor to the forums echoed the sentiment of many other backers:
Throughout the campaign and the many monthly updates we were given, we were constantly reassured, in some form or another, that this was a "game changer" or that it "just works". A huge number of superlatives were used throughout every post to describe how great everything was. ... Everything was painted as amazing and ground breaking, despite the delays. ... This message was repeated over and over to backers over the 2.5 years and therefore the expectations were set very high by Raphael and the team. Having now had the remote for a week I am sorry but it is not what I was promised. NEEO, you set the expectations at a level that were almost impossible to meet and unfortunately I feel they've been missed by quite a long way.
We very much appalud the passion and the extraordinary accomplishments of the Neeo team so far, and we appreciate that Raphael took the time and the care to share his views on our coverage and his vision for the company.
Dear Julie, from Raphael
I founded NEEO because I believe - very, very much - that the daily interaction with technology should be much more natural, magical and fun. The current mess of interfaces, standards, all the buttons, the overload of apps, the confusing buying experience and many other cumbersome factors feel so wrong.
Every user deserves better, not just the wealthy. Having previously led one of the largest custom installation firms in Europe and as a former CEDIA board member I have high respect for everyone in the industry trying to create great custom solutions.
In fact, many of the things we bring to the mass market with NEEO right now are inspired by my CEDIA days and experiences.
In 2014 I felt it’s time for something crazy and I founded NEEO. It could not have been a more ambitious project. With a small team I wanted to create the best remote on this planet and the ideal smarthome platform for everyone, not just wealthy people.
I wanted it to be "programming free" and work with the products people already have installed in their homes.
There are two main factors from the CI industry that inspired me to build NEEO. First one was the fundamentally important idea of simplified, human-friendly interfaces. The second factor, though, was the lack of magical products in the industry. I don’t want to offend anyone but I’m pretty sure a lot of people in the industry feel the same as me.
A 'Crazy' Mission
So, we set out to this crazy mission of creating basically everything that we missed in the industry and everything that we thought customers and pros deserve.
Our crazy successful crowdfunding campaign was an early indicator that people understand what NEEO's early value proposition is. This was the beginning of a very intense journey. I started writing a blog to make every supporter part of this journey and give them insights into the world of a startup with all the ups and downs, crazy challenges, patent litigation, capital raises, high-volume manufacturing etc.
It was awesome to see that our blog also helped other startups to get through challenges and learn from mistakes we had made. The community which started to grow around this is incredible. Actually it’s one of the most important parts of NEEO today. Speaking about that, I feel the idea of building and improving a product together with (and as a part of) a community is a concept that is probably new and a bit of an alien idea for most guys in the CI industry.
I believe though that this is exactly what we need to do because it brings people together, rather than everyone playing around with their proprietary solutions in their own silos.
We opened up our software developer kit, our APIs, and let many standards and products talk that previously could not have come together in one experience.
If you see what’s currently happening in the community, it is just breathtaking. One guy uses NEEO brains and its CEC capability for two-way control of PlayStation 4 in Crestron systems.
Others have worked on Lutron IP integrations or connected to the openHAB project in no time. Our LiFX integration is another example of the super-valuable contribution by the community. We are open for everyone and I truly mean this. [See list of user-developed drivers.]
We don’t see us as a competitor of anyone in the industry. We want to (and do) work together with the other manufacturers out there to create those magical experiences. I encourage everyone who is interesting in collaborating to reach out to me in a private message on Planet NEEO [user support forum]!
There is a lot of software development involved and the team is currently focused on some mainstream integrations. There are also a lot of CI-specific features on the list. You need to know that I love this industry, I have spent so much time designing systems, I learned a lot from all the awesome CEDIA people and spent so many hours in beautifully wired racks.
I know how it feels to be an installer, I know how it feels to be a system designer and I well know what it means to run a CI business. I want NEEO to become a tool that allows new business models in the industry and removes a lot of today's pains. Whilst we are not ready to announce the CI-specific features (and product) I can assure you you can look forward to it.
All the Wonderful Things about Neeo
So, beside this background info on NEEO, I wanted to reach out and thank for being so active as a journalist in the industry and thanks, at least in general, for the article and featuring Kris Hogg’s review of NEEO.
I was a bit surprised that you would write a “review” without yet having a unit at hand. I wish you would have reached out to us as it seems you have not had access to some of the latest information. So I thought I would provide some additional info here.
I found it a bit odd that the main topic of the article is sort of "software isn’t finished.”
Whilst you are right, we don’t claim the software is “finished” (software actually in general never is), it would be worth it to mention how amazing it is that we come out day one with features and qualities unseen in the industry (I agree you did suggest that in terms of hardware).
You have to understand that launching a hardware startup is insane. Millions of things could have gone wrong and nothing major did. All the cloud services, the several pieces of hardware, the OS, the Planet NEEO [discussion] platform and much more just work.
The fact that we can talk about software features to be added means basically there are hundreds of other things -- that build on the foundation -- working nicely. This is certainly worthy of mention.
Many players who tried launching somewhat innovative remotes unfortunately failed there. Look, like probably every founder I would at every stage love to have reached the next step already, and I wish there was no software feature ever missing, but we should at the same time never forget how far we already are.
I would love readers also get informed about our recipe engine, concierge service, the new Sonos integration with Instant Favourites (very powerful), PlayStation 4 integration, the over 95% of devices in our database built from scratch with discrete IR control, Z-Wave Plus, the control system API (used for Control4 and Crestron integrations), our voice API, our SDK with dozens of ongoing projects, etc.
OK, some of those topics are mentioned in Kris’s review. If you plan a follow-up review some time I’m happy to provide you with a unit so you can play with it as well.
Addressing the 'Missing' Features
PS: You quoted in the article some of our customers that struggled with “the software." Those who had such issues mainly struggled in their set-ups with “stupid devices” (toggle-only IR devices). Whilst people in the industry like our current handling (thanks for having written about this), some affected end users were unhappy with it as we made them go through some additional screens.
It’s a minority of users currently having a stupid device in their system. It’s clear, though, if you go to our support platform you see many of those cases. That’s why the platform is so important. It is a real community and we listen and talk to everyone.
This heavily discussed "stupid device” feature is already announced to be improved with two "device smartener” options, including true status via CEC, which is going to be something no other remote in the market provides.
Also, we have already addressed the other “missing” features and devices mentioned in the reviews. Whilst I cannot make an official announcement yet, full two-way Amazon FireTV support as an example is coming up shortly. Same for the Nest thermostat that is coming back. We had to remove it, officially for “maintenance,” but basically it’s being completely rewritten for quality reasons, using our SDK.
We want to use the same tools that are used by the community also internally. This helps us improve that environment at the same time.
Again. Thank you for your article. I personally felt it was too much focused on things that are "not yet there."
In my opinion the whole amazing product and the innovation of it came up a bit short here. The CEDIA industry needs that kind of innovation in order to remain relevant with most large consumer electronic companies slowly joining the smart home game!
Thanks for being part of our journey.
Visit Neeo at CES 2018 at Eureka Park (startup zone), Sands Expo, Level 1, Booth 51659
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Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at email@example.com
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