in Innovation

3 Web Cube

The 3 Web Cube was the last product developed by my team before I left H3G to join frog design.

I think it is one of the best product we ever designed, even if it had a troubled birth, somehow.

3WebCube

From a technical point of view it is nothing else that a MiFi device; a WiFi/UMTS router for domestic use.

The original idea was very simple. Let’s take an existing MiFi architecture, redesign it for domestic use, and simplify the end user User Experience.

Sounds easy, isn’t it. Well, it wasn’t.

Design wise it’s made of two different pieces. The first piece is the device itself. It can be plugged in a wall outlet and it will starts its operations automatically.

The second piece is a cradle where you can plug in the main device in order to place it on a desk or on any flat surface.

Design was an interesting exercise. We analyzed all of the MiFi devices and UMTS/WiFi routers out there and we dissected them from an hardware point of view. What are the functions of all the LEDs? How do you power the device? What visual indications are given to the user? How does the device communicates its status to the client?

The same process happened on the software side. How do you configure the device? How do you connect to the 3G network? How is the connection managed? How do you configure your WiFi connection?

We found that most products were complex, unfriendly and ugly. Well, most of them.

Our goal was to have a simple, simple, simple device.

The next step was to strip out everything.

What is important for the customer? The answer was an easy one:

  1. He wants to know how strong the 3G signal is.
  2. He wants to know the status of the device.

That’s it. Nothing else.

This is why the device has just one visual signal indicator in the front showing the strength of the 3G signal and a set of blues LEDs in the back to visually represent the status of the device.

We wanted our client not to be scared about the device and the configuration.

If you look at the main device it’s a very simple one. It has a plug on the back, one button in the front and that’s it. When the client will take it out of the box the very first thing that he will see is the wall plug. The only thing he can do is to plug the device. Nothing else.

Then some magic happens. The device turns on automatically, connect to the 3G network and powers up the WiFi interface. In less than fifteen seconds the device is up and running.

Now you are ready to connect to the Internet.

Just look at the quick user guide and type the WiFi password on your personal computer and your connected.

Three simple steps compared to a much difficult path with other devices.

We have seen other products with huge user manuals and CDs in the packaging. We did not want this.

The packaging is very simple. You have the main device, the cradle and just one leaflet with the quick user guide. That’s it.

The quick user guide has been designed to be visual in order to show to client what he has to do to connect to the Internet in three single steps.

My team has worked really hard on this product, and it is not perfect. What’s the reason?

Any product, or service, you design has to cope with existing processes in your company and we had to go through so many hurdles with this. We come down to compromises that somehow made the product less friendly compared to what we originally designed. Well, you know. That’s how it works.

Nevertheless it is something I am really proud of.

Thank you to all of my ex-team who has worked on this and to all of the colleagues that made this happen: Adam, Sergio, Lavinia, Mauro, Marco, Oronzo, Francesco, Marco, Marlene and so many others.

We wanted to create magic, and now I still do!

  • pecus

    Excellent post, clearly exposing how good design needs time, exploration and understanding of the environment (both the environment the object of design will have to fit in and of competing products to which it could be compared).

    What makes a company great (insanely great as SJ would put it) is its way to keep design decision (possibly informed of the business or marketing constraints) instead of having to compromise.

    Le’ts hope H3G can grow to accept this approach.

  • http://www.dotdust.com/3-web-cube-29581.htm#respon Dave

    I am using the device in Rome, italy and it works great. My question is that there seems to be a problem if I want to use my magic jack system. As soon as i plug in my cordless phone the internet connection is gone. I have an older vtech phone working at 2.4ghz and I am using a step down converter at the outlet to be able to plug in my phone base. Any thoughts?

    • Alessandro

      Well, from what I read your phone is operating on the same frequencies the WiFi section of the WebCube. Because of this your phone is basically interfering with the WebCube killing the connection.

      What I suggest is that you log in in the advanced section of the admin interface of the WebCube and try to change the rf channel 1 or 11 (these are at the lower and higher range of the spextrum used by the WebCube).

      This may solve you issue.

      Hope it helps!

  • Robots

    The design is not bad even if it looks like one of those Apple products from early 2000. What i dislike most is the big misaligned (?!?) tag in front of it. the back-lit is awful (fast&furious? pimp my wifi?). But your are right, it just works. Bought today and i’m happy with it :)

  • Alessandro

    @Robots. Well, the idea was really that kind of design.

    The tag, I agree on that. From my perspective I would have left the product with a clean surface. Corporate masters pushed for a name and that’s the result. That’s where I say the product design cannot always be the best but has to come to a compromise. That’s the compromise.

    The backlight? I have to be blamed for that. It’s actually the only mean by which the product can communicate it’s status to the user, and it had to be strong enough to light the cradle while sitting on a desk.

    And yes, it just works. Even if it’s a little bit far from the original concept.

  • Andrew

    I am going from UK to Cagliari on Sunday. The place I will be staying has a webcube.

    Can you help with a few queries:

    Will I be able to connect my MacBook easily to the internet? Do I need to know any codes etc? Do I need any cables or is it wireless?

  • Joe

    I just noticed that this device is using a chumby linux based distro underneath.

    I seem to have a problem though with one of the options, and don’t know if you would know anything about it.

    I found the option to enable ssh on the device’s web interface, and did activate it, but when I try connecting with the credentials I use to access the web interface (user: admin), it fails with the following message:
    PTY allocation request failed on channel 1

    Any ideas?

    • Alessandro

      Unfortunately I have left 3 more then one year ago and I am no more involved in the WebCube product development.

      Still, I have some friends there, and I can report the error.

      My guess is that the device is not mounting the devpts filesystem at boot time. Again, just my guess.

      Unfortunately there is no root access available to the enduser to do that manually (unless you root the device ;-) ).

      I’ll fire an e-mail to my friends with a report of the bug you seem to have found. I have to confess that I never tried ssh through that device.

  • Joe

    Good, I’ll wait for your answer then. In the mean time, I’ll take my precision tools, and look for my usb-ttl cable to root it in case you can’t find anything useful I can use.

    The option is on the web interface, and it does start the service on the device according the nmap output, too bad it’s a half baked feature.

    I have a post on superuser.com too, can’t wait to have shell access on this device :P

  • pd2

    I wouldn’t be too proud of the project. uPNP doesn’t work properly and the ‘help’ is a joke.

    • Alessandro

      Everything can be improved.

      Honestly uPNP should not be really needed by the target user of the device. Anyway, if it’s there it must work.

      Agree on the help. In a six month timeframe there was no better option, but you will always get the excellent support from 3 customer care.

      I am no more working for 3 and I will not be able to take care of what you noticed. Hope my former colleagues will read this.

      One last thing… I am still very proud of this :-)

  • Horst Serschen

    My friend in Austria has one Cube and can not get the device to work. He claimed, he can not type in the security code required by the device.
    Even the tech personal at the store he got it from does not know why. He has a HP Laptop with W7 installed. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Horst

    • Alessandro

      Not much I can do not working anymore in 3.

      I would suggest to bring the product back to the store and ask for a refund/replacement. It really sounds like it’s a DOA.

  • http://www.inkdrops.org koundeenyaa

    Woo…Love this theme. The comment section is especially awesome. BTW it was really a nice article

  • Mohammed

    Will it be fast enough to play online computer games in the uk

  • Mohammed

    With ps3 system

  • Simon

    can you unlock/crack a web cube? and if so how?

  • Oves

    Like the design and the concept well done, having not seen this product in Spain guess its locked into H3G with Huawei. You mentioned compromises to what you wanted, interested to know more? How would you have improved the product making as mentioned “more Friendly”……