破壞性的網路革新

——愛比科技「IPEVO」
:::

2011 / 5月

文‧王婉嘉 圖‧愛比科技提供


獨特、簡潔、耐看,蘋果產品的設計風格如此搶眼,蘋果美學經濟更滋養了全球無數周邊廠商,以設計網路電話創業成功的台灣愛比科技也因搭上「蘋果列車」,再創高峰。


2010年1月,蘋果公司執行長賈伯斯以一身黑衣牛仔褲的招牌裝扮,帶著最新產品——平板電腦「iPad」在記者會亮相,宣告繼2007年第一支iPhone手機登場後,將再掀起一波科技新浪潮。

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。

沒料到,P2V反而搶了鋒頭,成為全場焦點。對美國的學校老師來說,他們向來得用又大又重、設定繁複的實物投影機,沒見過如此輕巧方便的設計;尤其與過去一台數公斤,動輒700元美金起跳的傳統投影機相比,聽到P2V竟然只要1/10的價格,更是大感意外,紛紛好奇詢問。

輕巧方便,蘋果教主也讚好

不久,這位工程師向愛比提出強烈抗議,要愛比儘快提供產品型錄,否則他都快成了P2V的義務推廣代表。

「賈伯斯也認為P2V是個很酷的點子!」愛比科技總經理洪裕鈞略顯得意說道,一名女同事帶著即將上市的P2V樣品,到美國加州蘋果電腦總部測試相容性,在走廊巧遇賈伯斯,眼尖的他發現這名同事戴著訪客證,便問起來訪目的。

賈伯斯好奇:「電腦都有內建視訊鏡頭,為什麼還要開發這種產品呢?」她解釋,這是一款「指向型」的攝影機,可以隨意調整拍攝角度。

賈伯斯聽了後準備轉身走進一間會議室時,突然興奮地回頭:「妳知道什麼會很酷嗎?如果幫它多做個支架,像是顯微鏡那樣!」而賈伯斯提出的點子,正巧就是P2V的特色之一。

隨著iPad大賣,P2V也在北美教育界造成一股旋風,其簡單易用、輕便好攜帶的特性,老師可用來在大螢幕播放筆電裡的教材,或是用來教編織、認識音符、改文法、學算術等等,成為教學最佳工具。

上市至今一年多,全美已有超過2,000所中小學使用P2V,讓公司業績大幅提升,幾乎每個月出貨量都成長3倍,光是這款產品,就占北美分公司總營收的六成。

創業:Skype代名詞

2007年成立,總部位於台北博愛路的愛比科技,前身為PChome網路家庭公司的硬體事業部。

2004年,全球用戶數居冠(現已突破5億)的網路通訊軟體Skype,相中台灣科技產業實力堅強的背景以及Skype普及率(當時為600萬名用戶,現已超過800萬),授權PChome代理台灣業務,成為Skype全球第一個聯合品牌的合作夥伴。

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。

接連陸續開發Skype網路會議機、免用電腦話機後,愛比科技看好網路服務結合硬體產品之趨勢,2007年,整併原PChome硬體事業部、洪裕鈞與建築師妻子張淑征共組的「Xrange 十一事務所」設計團隊,以及IPEVO美國分公司,以2億元資本,增資獨立營運。

不靠家族的破壞性創新

58年次的愛比科技總經理洪裕鈞,另一個常被提及的身分,是台灣松下「國際牌」家電創辦人洪建全的長孫,但是比起家族事業以改良現有產品為基礎,由日本松下企業總部掌握主導權,他更鍾情於革新的設計領域。

「我喜歡破壞性的創新!」他說,如何讓網路從虛擬世界走出來?創造網路的嶄新樣貌與使用方式,是IPEVO的設計原則。

以打破既定Skype使用邏輯的話機為例。最初洪裕鈞以設計「用Skype進行遠距溝通」的行為模式為出發點,而非想著設計一支電話。同時,也得讓使用者一看就能明瞭產品用途,透過熟悉的行為,降低用電腦軟體打電話的不安與陌生。

這款看似簡潔無奇的話機,玄機處處。話機底端翹起,比機身略高,好讓使用者只需手掌輕壓底端,話機就會輕彈至手中,也不會壓住連接電腦的USB傳輸線;而仰角12度的設計,是為了通話時的握拿舒適,同時也貼合臉形輪廓。

話機下方位置開口的挖空設計,一來能有效阻絕訊號干擾的串音現象,消除惱人迴音,二來則是比喻使用者在對一個象徵虛擬世界的「洞」說話。而推桿設計,讓聯絡人選單有如手機搜尋上下自如,並能於通話過程中調整音量大小,甚至錄下對談內容,不需要一邊講電話,一邊忙著慌亂點滑鼠。

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。

建立口碑行銷

再以實物投影攝影機為例,即時視訊和分享影像是網路溝通行為的重要一環,然而不論是電腦內建,或是外接的網路攝影機,問世迄今近10年,都是相同思維,兩顆人頭相瞪眼,過沒幾分鐘就覺得無聊。

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)。

在網路資訊爆炸的世代,愛比深信「口碑行銷」之道,使用者經驗才是最有力的品牌代言。

「但這也是向美國通路商繳了不少學費才頓悟的,」洪裕鈞笑說,IPEVO進軍美國市場之初,遵循傳統遊戲規則,花大錢搶占Best Buy、Fry’s等全國性連鎖賣場,但通路商層層轉手、抽成高,幾乎沒得賺,況且又和消費者中間隔了一堵牆,總覺得聽不到顧客感想,也未能提供即時服務。

為了與消費者第一手對話,洪裕鈞在台灣、美國兩地分別建立「愛比線上購物」網站,除了銷售自家產品,也引進性質相似,試用過後覺得滿意的消費電子品牌,目前品項已累積上千種。

用設計改善世界

購物網站提供的「開箱文」服務,更是一項貼心創舉。

開箱文指的是網友買東西回家後,將商品從未拆封、打開包裝、測試使用等步驟都一一拍照紀錄、描述心得,並張貼於部落格,尤以3C產品風氣最盛。愛比參考部落客做法,特別聘請三名專職攝影師,全天候拍攝產品細部照片,詳述使用心得,讓網友選購產品時一目瞭然。

洪裕鈞認為,網路虛擬世界看似都是購物網站,但常淪為價格流血戰,產品資訊不清,又缺乏完善客服,仍有很大競爭空間。愛比網站上線至今,虛擬通路業績占比已超過9成以上,銷售量比傳統賣場來得高,明顯上揚。

隨著Skype市場漸趨飽和,以及iPhone等智慧型手機衝擊,Skype硬體市場逐漸萎縮,IPEVO也轉而開發iPhone、iPad周邊商品,成為另一主打重點。

為了從使用蘋果產品的經驗中,找到待開發的可能性,愛比員工在自家部落格上皆以「松鼠」自居,熱愛蒐集各式松果(科技新產品),好好把玩一番。

「iPhone販賣的是一種創新的使用方式、生活型態,這是一種文化占有率,」洪裕鈞說,許多人視iPhone為「愛瘋」,只是一股跟流行的盲目風潮,抑或科技大廠爭相力推更高規格又平價的產品,試圖取代市場,卻忽略賈伯斯以設計為導向,集科技人與文化人於一身的特質。

「這世界不缺乏美麗的產品,但需要改善既有世界的設計思維。」他說,而IPEVO將會是其中之一。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

IPEVO: "Disruptive" Internet Innovation

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.

Praise from Steve Jobs

"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.

Skype means entrepreneurship

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.

Disruptive innovation

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.

Word-of-mouth marketing

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.

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!