2011 / 5月
有一位蘋果銷售工程師，為了到美國各中小學示範推廣，如何靈活運用iPad、iPhone做為教學輔助工具，上網買了一支由台灣愛比科技旗下品牌「IPEVO」新推出的P2V（Point 2 View）實物投影攝影機，方便帶著到處跑。
PChome 開始著手研發Skype相關硬體，取「Experience over IP（提升網路使用體驗）」為意，成立自有品牌「IPEVO」。也找來畢業自美國頂尖設計學府羅德島學院工業設計系、曾是PChome公司設計總監的洪裕鈞，主掌硬體事業部，並且操刀設計一款Skype專屬話機。
2005年首度亮相的「Free 1」話機，因使用便利、概念創新、外型俐落，市場反應熱烈，除囊括多項國際設計大獎，也登上《紐約時報》、《時代雜誌》等重要媒體，Skype歐洲總部也常拿著這款話機，對外說明虛擬通話概念，儼然成了Skype 的代言象徵，至今銷售量更已超過百萬台。
從網友如何使用、撥打、通話、存放，所有細節都得一併納入考量，「真正的工業設計，不是只替產品穿衣服，而是加入使用者經驗，思考『How it works』，而非『How it looks』，尋求更深層的價值，外觀只是設計師美感思考的結果，」洪裕鈞說。
洪裕鈞認為，要模擬「面對面」溝通，對方其實更想看的是「你看到的」，而不是你。好比人們會用肢體語言告訴對方，此刻正在談論的物件，透過手勢引導，因此指向型視訊攝影機便能讓對方「見我所見」（See what I see）。
Wang Wan-chia /photos courtesy of courtesy of IPEVO /tr. by Chris Nelson
Distinctive, simple and easy on the eyes, Apple products are eye-catching in design. Apple's aesthetic economy also nurtures innumerable peripheral businesses around the world, and Taiwan IPEVO, founded as a designer and maker of Skype phones, is a tale of the heights of success achievable by riding the "Apple train."
In January 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, clad in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck, showed off his latest product, the tablet computer known as the iPad, at a press conference. He announced this as the next new wave of technology since the introduction of the first iPhone in 2007.
There was a certain Apple sales engineer who traveled to schools around the US to show how the iPad and iPhone can be used as teaching aids. He went online one day to buy the new IPEVO brand P2V (Point 2 View) USB document camera, and he took it with him to product presentations.
He could not have foreseen that the P2V would become all the rage in the schools. The American schoolteachers, who frequently have to operate bulky, heavy, hard-to-set-up document cameras, had never seen such a simple and handy device. And when they heard that the price of the P2V was a tenth that of the cumbersome traditional cameras, which cost upwards of US$700, they overwhelmed him with questions.
"Steve Jobs also thinks the P2V is a pretty cool idea," says IPEVO CEO and head of design Royce Hong with an air of pride. A company rep brought a sample of the soon-to-be-unveiled P2V to Apple's California headquarters for compatibility tests, and while there she happened to bump into Jobs in the hallway.
Jobs wondered why, given that computers have built-in cameras, it would be necessary to develop such a product. She explained to him that it's an external, pointable camera whose shooting angle can be adjusted to your liking.
Then, as he was about to walk into a conference room, Jobs suddenly and excitedly wheeled around and said, "You know what would be cool? If it could be placed on a stand, like a microscope!" And the idea that Jobs mentioned just happened to be one of the features that IPEVO was developing for the P2V.
Following the release of the iPad, the P2V took North American school systems by storm. Now, over a year since its launch, there are more than 2,000 primary and secondary schools in the US using it, greatly boosting the company's sales and tripling the product's monthly production volume. Revenues from this product alone make up 60% of the total revenues of the company's North American branch.
IPEVO, founded in 2007 and headquartered on Bo'ai Road in Tai-pei, was in its previous life the hardware division of the PChome Online.
In 2004, Skype, maker of the world's most popular online voice communication software (now with over 500 million users), took the prowess of Taiwan's technology industry and the ubiquity of Skype (6 million users at that time, now surpassing 8 million) into account in its decision to authorize PChome to serve as a local partner for Taiwan. The company thus became Skype's first international business partner under a joint brand.
PChome started developing hardware tailored to Skype, forming the brand IPEVO from the idea of "experience over IP." The company recruited Hong, who had graduated in industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design, a top American design school, and who was creative director at PChome, to head the hardware division, and he set about designing a phone specially made for Skype.
In 2005 they unveiled the Free-1 USB handset for Skype, which was eagerly received by the market for its convenience, originality and sleek design. The next release, the FR-33.1, clinched numerous international design awards, and was featured in important media outlets such as The New York Times and Time magazine. Skype's European headquarters often used this phone to demonstrate the concept of virtual calling, and it soon became an icon for Skype, with over 1 million units sold to date.
Forty-one-year-old Hong is also the grandson of Hong Chien-chuan, founder of Pana-sonic Taiwan, a local partner of the international household electronics brand. But the authority over making design improvements on the products manufactured by the family business was under the control of Pana-sonic Japan. So he decided instead to go into the field of his true love-design-and produce his designs under the IPEVO name.
"I like disruptive innovation!" he says, referring to paradigm-shifting new ideas. How to give the Internet a form, to bring it out of the purely virtual world and create new user experiences is IPEVO's design objective.
Hong started out by studying people's behavior patterns when using Skype as a means of long--distance communication. His findings became the basis for his designs, rather than merely designing a telephone. But he also wanted the user to understand the product at first glance, minimizing the unease of using unfamiliar computer software when making calls by emphasizing familiar behaviors.
This simple-looking, unembellished phone is loaded with features. The bottom of the phone angles outward slightly from the body of the device, so that the user need only apply light pressure to the base and the phone will be gently released into the hand without crushing the USB cord. And the 12-degree angled surface allows for comfortable use, conforming to the contours of the face.
The phone's mouthpiece features a hollowed-out design. First, it blocks signal-interfering crosstalk effectively, eliminating annoying echoes. Second, the user gets the feeling that he or she is speaking into something. The scroll button allows for easy up-down searches through the contact list, and you can even record your conversations. This eliminates all the busy mouse clicking to start up recording software while speaking through Skype on the computer.
"True industrial design is not merely dressing up a product; it's stepping into the user's experience and thinking about how it works rather than just how it looks. It's seeking value at a greater depth. Appearance is just the result of the designer's aesthetic sense," says Hong.
Again looking at the P2V camera, we understand that real-time videoconferencing is an important aspect of online communication. But almost all of the webcams on the market were designed for the same purpose: to capture images of talking heads in a way that mimics face-to-face conversations. This premise hasn't changed in the last decade; yet when two people are looking at each other on screen, barely a few minutes pass before they feel bored.
Hong believes that in face-to-face virtual communication, what the other person wants is to see what you see, rather than just to see you. Thus IPEVO designed the P2V with the concept of "see what I see."
In this age of burgeoning online information, IPEVO deeply believes in word-of-mouth marketing: user experience is the most powerful brand advocate of all.
"But this is a lesson I learned after wasting a lot of money on American retailers," laughs Hong. When IPEVO first entered the US market, they adhered to the traditional rules of the game, selling their products through such national chains as Best Buy and Fry's. But these retailers took a large cut of the profits, so IPEVO didn't make much. Moreover, they formed a barrier between IPEVO and the end user, so that the company felt they were unable to communicate well with the consumer or provide timely service. So to promote direct dialogue with the consumer, IPEVO built online shopping websites for Taiwan and the US.
A better world via design
The online shopping sites offer "unboxing" services for an extra degree of consideration.
"Unboxing" is when someone buys an electronic product, then documents with photos or on video all the steps of unpacking, setting up and using the product while making comments. This log is then posted to a blog to showcase all the features of the product. IPEVO observed the methods of these bloggers and hired three professional photographers to spend the day documenting the detailed features of the product and how it's used, so that viewers can get a good overall understanding of the product online.
Hong noticed that most of the online shopping sites in Taiwan care more about undercutting each other's prices than providing clear information or good customer service, meaning that there's ample room for competition in this area. Since the launch of IPEVO's website, over 90% of the com-pany's sales have taken place online, blowing traditional sales channels out of the water.
"What the iPhone sells is an innovative user interface and a lifestyle. It's a kind of 'cultural market share,'" says Hong. Many folk see the iPhone as a fad, a case of -blindly following fashion trends. Other major vendors try to grab market share by pushing products with a higher technical specification and a lower price, but they overlook Steve Jobs' focus on design and on achieving a fusion between technology and culture.
"There is no lack of beautiful products in this world, but there's a need for design ideas that will change the world," says Royce Hong. And IPEVO will be one to take on such tasks.