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.


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 supe​ruser​.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.

    • 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”.…..