Open source Vivaldi tablet and Improv board seem to be dead in the water

Once upon a time a group of developers with the KDE team decided to release a tablet based on open source software. It was announced in 2012 as the Spark, renamed a few months later as the Vivaldi, got a major hardware overhaul a year later, and still hasn’t made it to market.

Now it looks like the Vivaldi in its latest form may never actually ship… nor will its sibling, the Improv modular ARM-based computer which was announced in November.

Improv

Both the Improv board and the Vivaldi tablet were designed to be open devices that would run entirely free software — and I mean free as in ideas rather than free as in free as in music. The idea was to create relatively affordable and accessible devices that didn’t rely on proprietary, closed-source software developed by Google, Microsoft, or anyone else.

Last year the team behind the projects seemed to find some like-minded folks: the developers of the EOMA-68 platform. EOMA-68 cards are ARM-based computer modules that currently feature an Allwinner A20 processor and support Linux-based operating systems such as Debian. The module is about the size and shape of a PCMCIA card, and if and when you want to upgrade your desktop, tablet, notebook or other device powered by an EOMA-68 card, you would just pop out the card and replace it with a newer model with a faster processor or other improvements (assuming newer models are eventually produced).

eoma-68_01

Both the Vivaldi tablet and the Improv board were supposed to be powered by EOMA-68 cards.

But as Phoronix points out, comments from project leaders and community members in the Make Play Live forum and the ARM Netbook mailing list suggest that things went south in recent months.

There seems to be a bit of disagreement over the details, but in a nutshell it looks like not enough units were pre-ordered for the contract with a Chinese manufacturer to go ahead… and a lack of communication between the folks who wanted to create the tablet and Improv board and the folks at Rhombus Tech who designed to the EOMA-68 platform has led to some potentially insurmountable problems.

Rhombus Tech EOMA-68

So while it’s possible that we could eventually see an EOMA-68 powered device sold at retail, it probably won’t be a tablet or system board sold at Make Play Live. And while the Make Play Live team might still produce their own open hardware one day… it probably won’t be based on the EOMA-68 system.

But the landscape has changed a lot in the past few years. There are dozens of ARM-powered TV boxes and mini PCs which are capable of running Android or Linux (although most don’t support hardware-accelerated graphics unless you’re using Android), hardware hacker Bunnie Huang recently finished a successful Kickstarter campaign to build an open laptop, and Google is developing a modular smartphone platform which would let users upgrade individual components on their mobile devices without buying a whole new phone.

While the EOMA-68, Vivaldi, and Improv projects all kind of looked ahead of their time when they first launched, I have to wonder if their time has already come… and gone.

  • http://rationaldreaming.com/ Mike

    Yeah, it’s hard to keep up with companies that can spend billions of dollars creating ever thinner, lighter, and cheaper devices, and these devices will always have a niche market. The vast majority of users want a device that they can turn on and just works, along with having immediate access to all their favorite games and apps.

  • zorg

    I used to purchase small first-run devices like these—usually there would not be a second device before the project would fold. I still look for such devices (I followed Vivaldi since it was called … I forget what it was called before Vivaldi) but now many are publicized that either don’t produce anything I can purchase or, like Pengpod, they don’t produce enough for me to get one before they vanish completely.

    Is this bad? Not really. I’ve never been able to use any of the first-run devices for very long. They’ve always eventually broken and been discarded because there was no longer anywhere to send them for repair. Now the only difference is that I don’t have any new hardware to throw away. Now I just try to repurpose popular hardware to do unpopular things. The problem is still not solved (free hardware) but it hasn’t really gotten worse.

    Some companies are still
    *trying* to make it worse. Are they really succeeding? The new Surface 3 from MS is yet another attempt to prevent open hardware on a small device but it doesn’t offer any hardware I can’t get elsewhere and with fewer restrictions. At one time, the big boys had far greater control over the latest greatest hardware than they have now.

    All the small device hardware innovation now is in phones and the carriers in my country, USA, are far worse than any hardware makers. Lack of open hardware is still a problem but it seems small compared to the networks.

  • Mat

    I was okay with the vivaldi taking forever, because all they ever did was take names and not customer money. But once you take money, you need to be open, transparent, and communicate. The open source community is a patient lot when you communicate.

    Basic Business 101 is never piss off your suppliers, especially if you are relying on their intellectual property and not just using them to fab your own designs. Apparently, this happened, and it will be fairly hard to recover from, if at all possible.

    I wonder if they could have gotten more orders by providing options for end user kits, and not just developer boards. Bunny huang would not have met his kickstarter goal if he just provided a developer board and said have at it.

    I think the Improv folks underestimated the developer demand. They also did not publicize so well. They did price the Improv at a good price point: $75.

    The Improv was about hardware freedom, not just the initial instantiation. Hopefully, someone else can take up the torch.

  • lkcl

    brad: you need to be aware of what the EOMA initiatives are: they are long-term upgradeable products. the expected lifetime of the standard is ten years. the interfaces have been specifically selected to be long-term. unlike other developer boards this is not a fire-and-forget one shot concept. you buy a base board and as long as it serves your needs and continues to work you never need buy another: just upgrade the CPU card. so you state that these products have “had their time”: this simply is not true.

    the thing is: ordinarily, this kind of ambitious project would normally be attempted by someone with, overall, a better grasp of how to execute on a business idea (and i honestly don’t!). i need help getting this off the ground, hence why i have been engaging with others, but what i have learned from this is that if i let people take control too much then we both lose out as they try to take the project in a different direction.

    for example, very embarrassingly i had to slap down one of our client’s team members on their forum when they claimed that they had control over the EOMA-68 standard, by answering questions in a way that claimed that the standard would change in the future…. without consulting me about the implications. so at the very best they were bringing the standard into disrepute; at worst they were exposing themselves to liability (something that would again bring the standard into disrepute) for making false claims.

    so.

    let’s start again.

    we are looking for buyers, investors, partners and software libre individuals and teams willing to work together to create desirable modular continuously upgradeable mass-volume products that are open, properly copyright license compliant, and result long-term in less e-waste, that happen to save the end-user a lot of money over the long term.

    if anyone would truly like to help bring that about you know where to find me.

  • realmadpuppy

    I would have loved to own a KDE based tablet, but, the darn thing was too expensive, IF I remember correctly it was somewhere in the ballpark of 249.00 for a 7 or 8″ tablet. I know where they were coming from but, I think it would have been better if they released an easy way to install KDE plasma onto an existing tablet as a dual boot. maybe not what they had in mind but, at least the project would have still been active.

  • jezra

    And here I am, still waiting for my refund.

    • genx

      Hello,

      I am curious about how this crisis is managed. Makeplaylive official forum has been unreachable for several weeks(*), Makeplaylive official twitter has been dead for half a year, Seigo does not communicate on this matter on his Google+ account and he was banned from the mailing-list held by the other part of the project.

      Could you tell me if you were officially kept informed by Makeplaylive/Seigo/Symons/… of the encountered troubles of the last months and of the present situation (during forum blackout) through other channels ? Or were you kept in the dark as much as an outsider like me ?

      Did you emit your refunding request long ago ?

      Bye.

      (*) server crashing could be a coincidence, but not bringing it back up after almost a month… well…