Sales Director, Northern Europe 3Dconnexion - a Logitech company
posted by Jürgen Galba August 2008
I've met Andy at a Belgian Autodesk Convention, where he was demonstrating 3D mice at his stand. Of course I was already a "believer" of the spacemouse as it was called in the old days, but I couldn't resist joining a enthusiastic crowd at his stand. When I was asked what my opinion was about the devices - I could only confirm what the spectators where listening too.
As things go on a conference, there isn't much time for in-depth conversations, we exchanged cards and kept in contact.
Recently I had the opportunity to have a private meeting with him, and fired away every questions I could come up with.
Andy is stationed in the UK but his job demands a fair amount of traveling, therefore his path crosses Belgium once and a while. He has been into sales all his professional life, mostly even into the CAD-related market. About 5 years ago, 3dconnexion was able to pull him in.
Before, he was commercially active in the area of hardware and CAD workstations - and that is a tough market as profits are low and there is lots of competition. With these arguments 3dconnexion could persuade Andy: they had a product everybody loves, where there is no competition, and is easy to sell. The 3D mice were generally spread among the MCAD users, and it is very simple here - or they have a controller or they don't. Despite of all the advantages - there are still professional MCAD designers who don't have a device. But business is good for 3dconnexion, they are selling more devices than there are orders for "new" CAD licenses. 3dconnexion is a Logitech company, manufacturer of computer peripheral, and I was wondering what the influence of Logitech was. Did they set a global marketing or sales strategy, what kind of collaboration was there between the two, and in how far could 3dconnexion determine its own image? Andy explained that 3dconnexion is generally independent of Logitech. Bringing 3D mice to the market is a total different business than what Logitech does. The technology of 3Dconnexion devices is completely different, and there are very few shared components (e.g. some of the buttons on SpacePilot). Also the target group is different, Logitech typically targets a broad consumer audience and 3dconnexion profiles its products to a more specific type of professional customer. Despite having a pretty high self governance, we're able to leverage some of the advantages that Logitech has: For example, in many countries we share the same office, and we've also been able to benefit from certain parts of their supply chain and production expertise. Also the financial weight of Logitech is helpful for doing commerce, it provides us commercial stability.
The classic controllers have been on the market for more than a decade, and now have been replaced with modern devices. Does 3dconnexion have it's own design team, or was there collaboration with Logitech?
3Dconnexion has a strong product development team, focusing on hardware and software. We also leverage some of Logitechs design resources or share design partners, such as Design Partners in Ireland.
It's great to have access to the kind of resources Logitech has. For example, they have a whole team of surface technology engineers, who specialize in color and materials for making great looking products.
When we redesigned the controllers, we ended up with two prototypes for a new high-end device: the SpacePilot as we know it now, and a more "curved" ergonomic model. The SpacePilot had a more attractive design and from our marketing research - came out most popular. We also added the LCD screen to support the function buttons. As the software application switches, it was often confusing for the user to memorize the relation of the custom buttons to the assigned functions. The LCD screen is interactive and pictures always the right function attached to that button. With this LCD screen we could increase the efficiency of the SpacePilot with several percents.
Are there currently any new controllers under development?
Like every technology company, we're always looking at the next product. However, our primary focus at the moment is driving software developers to integrate native support for 3D mice. Each new software application that supports our 3D technology means an increase in our TAM (Total Available Market).
But 3dconnexion already covers most CAD software, what other application do you mean?
Mostly other software than CAD where a controller is going to be an asset. And it doesn't necessarily be in 3D: if you could pull the cap and scroll through an extended webpage in Internet Explorer or FireFox - that would be great. We've interfaced with Microsoft office for years, for navigating Word documents or spreadsheets. Both Google Earth and Microsoft Maps respond very well to the movements of the spacemouse.
Do you know our picture viewer? It comes with the driver package. By manipulating the controller cap - you can zoom and pan through multi-mega pixel images. Users already having a 3D controller, will start using it in these other applications, and there is demand it.
So far we support more than 130 different applications.
How is it that a spacemouse driver doesn't work on every software?
Because for this to happen, we need native operating system support (e.g. like a standard 2D mouse in Windows). This is a goal for 3Dconnexion, and we also supply a software developers kit (SDK) for Windows, Mac, Linux and UNIX systems, that enables software developers to integrate native 3D mouse support in their applications. In the future, we're considering launching a new sections on our website - a kind of 3dconnexion labs - where customers can tryout beta drivers for new applications or even whole applications. New technologies like the Microsoft surface or Photosynth would be interesting to interface with. Just imagine the experience when operating Photosynth with a twist of the controller cap.
We are often asked about 3D mouse support in games, and again this is a market area we are monitoring closely. However, in the absence of native operating system support, we need the developer to integrate the support and when you consider that many games take over 2 years to develop, it's a long time to wait for support is just one game.
In the early days, a controller was something exclusive, I'd say that the device got more accessible for a wider range of people.
How do you experience you this?
True, over time the retail price of a controller dropped.
We launched an entry model at the price of a decent computer mouse: the SpaceNavigator PE and we support a wider range of applications then a couple of years ago. This all makes 3D mice more accessible to a bigger crowd. However, we strongly believe that our Professional Series products (SpacePilot and SpaceExplorer) are the most suitable products for our professional users. When you consider they often deliver productivity gains over over 20%, the investment is normally paid back within one month. It's also worth mentioning the results of a recent independent survey which found that over 84% of 3D mouse users believe the 3D mouse improves their product designs and makes it easier to detect design errors. For these reasons alone, every design engineer should be using a 3D mouse if they want to have an advantage over their competitors.
Can you operate Autodesk Inventor or any another CAD system? (teasing)
Eeuh no... but I can load anything in about any CAD system and view it with my SpaceNavigator!! (Smiling)