Digistump has recently announced a partnership with Particle over cloud infrastructure that may well be a signal that the diasporan expansion in the microcontroller market is coming to an end.
Back at the end of May, Digistump introduced their Oak board on Kickstarter. An Arduino compatible board with built-in WiFi based around the ESP8266 chip, it was intended to be used alongside a cloud platform called RootCloud which was to offer an online IDE, a REST API, and Dashboard functionality.
The RootCloud API was modeled after the Spark (now Particle) cloud API, however, over the 4th of July holiday weekend DigiStump announced a partnership with Particle making the Oak board a first class citizen in the Particle Cloud, and that they had stopped developing their own cloud solution.
The board itself uses a custom Arduino core making the ESP8266 Arduino-compatible, rather than the community built core which hadn’t been publicly released when the board was designed, and implements all of the standard Arduino features as well as offering OTA updates. Compatible with existing Digispark shields, and priced at just $10, the Oak is an interesting board. Due to ship sometime in September to Kickstarter backers, I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on it.
The decision from Digistump to change tracks this late in the development cycle, and so close to the predicted shipping date in September, has surprisingly been met with little objection by backers. Perhaps this is because of Digistump’s history on Kickstarter — with three previous successful campaigns backers may trust the company to delivery on their promises — or that the RootCloud was explicitly modeled around the Particle (then Spark) Cloud API, and was always intended to be API-compatible, may have mitigated any criticism. For those worried about putting their future in the hands of another startup, like the RootCloud, the Particle Cloud can also be hosted locally.
Not all the promised features of the RootCloud are currently implemented in the Particle Cloud — although the new platform has some features that the RootCloud didn’t — and it seems Particle is working to implement the promised Storage and Queued Events, while Digistump will be implementing the Device Dashboard and Debugging functionality. All of the new Cloud functionality will be made available both with the Oak and Particle’s own boards — the Spark Core, Photon, and Electron.
The only real losers, it seems, will be the Beta backers (all 25 of them) whose units, due to be delivered before the bulk of the shipping boards, will now be delayed.
However, while this is all interesting — at least to the people who backed the Oak on Kickstarter or who own a Particle board — I think the really important thing here isn’t the announcement itself, but what it might indicate.
If you’re old enough to remember the ’80s and the huge range of personal computers that sprung up in the early years of the industry — each from a different manufacturer and based around a different CPU — then the current state of the microcontroller board market should seem familiar. In the last two years, we’ve seen an explosion of new boards.
But the microcontroller market isn’t the personal computer market and the forces driving change are very different, and because of that, it’s unlikely that we’ll trade the current diversity for a monoculture as we did with the arrival of the IBM PC and its many clones.
Instead I think that the hardware diversity will remain, but that we might still be heading towards some sort of consolidation phase. However this consolidation will be totally unlike the same phase in the desktop computer market, where the diversity of different models just faded away, and we were left with only a couple of hardware approaches.
Here we might be looking at a consolidation at a cloud API and tools level instead of at the hardware level. The merging of cloud architectures as well as the addition of the board manager functionality in the new Arduino IDE release, which made a lot of Arduino-compatible boards much more accessible to the average user, hints at an end to diasporan diversity. Just, perhaps, not in the way we were expecting. Which makes this announcement, and how the decision works out for Digistump — and for that matter for Particle — worth watching.