Berg V2 beta: New Cloud API and new Device API

We’ve just shipped V2 of our APIs — if you create a new project in the Dev Center you can choose V2 and get access to… well, a whole ton of new stuff.

Simpler. Faster. More flexible.

Berg is the missing link. You’ve got the hardware. You’ve built the website. We do the rest. Add web connectivity to your Arduino with our Devshields. Then message and manage all your connected devices with the Cloud API, using familiar JSON. Once you go to production, we’ll supply client libraries so you can move – with no changes – to your preferred wireless solution. Berg is already being used to run thousands of Little Printers, and we’ve been collecting feedback from developers using V1 of the platform. Today we’re shipping the beta of V2, for Arduino, ARM mbed, and Raspberry Pi.

Here are the highlights:

  • New Cloud API! Simpler, more powerful. Claim devices, list devices, send commands, and poll for events, all through the complete REST API. No requirement for your users to visit Berg’s website… you handle claim codes directly. Easy development because you can operate the API entirely through the command line. And, when you’re ready, webhooks to get events from your devices quick.
  • New Device API! Now when your hardware sends an event, you simply call BERGCloud.sendEvent("my-event", payload), and the event name and payload get sent directly to your back-end web service. The same for receiving commands… no more having to define identifiers for commands and events in the Dev Center and at the top of your Arduino projects. Much easier.
  • New dev tools in Manage Projects to claim devices, and simulate commands and webhooks while you’re in development.
  • Way, way faster! An upgrade to the Bridge software as part of the Devkit that makes commands and events almost instantaneous: Underneath the new APIs, the platform is now using websockets, so you no longer have to wait several seconds for commands to travel from the web to your devices.

The upgrade guide has all the details.

We’re excited about this release. While the recent Dev Center refresh was about simplifying, this release is getting simpler still, adding flexibility to the Cloud API, and speed… all in response to feedback from our developers.

The new APIs are currently in “beta.”

So read the docs, make a new V2 project, have a go and let us know what you think!

What’s next? Well, these new APIs lay the groundwork for new ways to connect to Berg (coming soon). And we’ll keep pushing towards our goals for the Berg platform, to make it:

  • dead simple to understand
  • dead simple to use
  • time-saving for developers of connected hardware
  • a place that brings hardware makers and web developers together

Thanks for the feedback, and keep telling us what you need.

Getting there!

New product opportunities for the Internet of Normal Things

We sent out a bunch of Little Printer for Business evaluation kits yesterday. Lots of parcels!

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These are the Berg-enabled receipt printers made by Martel Instruments. More details here. It’s the easy-to-hack-on Little Printer back-end, in robust off-the-shelf housing for commercial use.

We’ve had a ton of interest in these receipt printers with a web API. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why.

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My question: Why – given there are ten thousand networked receipt printers on the market – do customers want the one that you send HTML through a web API?

Here’s my take…

Businesses used to be built around Windows PCs.

You’d have a Visual Basic app that tracked stock. You’d use it for data entry. It would generate pro formas for ordering. It would print tickets on a receipt printer, connected by serial or USB or something, and the tickets would go down to the stock room or warehouse to give a paper trail. The printer would come with a special print driver. The system would have been built a decade ago and worked okay. It would never get touched.

Businesses don’t run on Windows PCs anymore.

The back-office is an intranet. On the web.

You can’t install print drivers on the web. The intranet doesn’t have a USB port to plug a printer in.

So with our Berg-enabled printer, our HTML cloud-renderer is the print driver. The web API is the USB port.

It’s easily integrated, so companies can simply print from their intranet direct into known locations. With future dashboard features, they can check prints have actually be done, and monitor for Out of Paper warnings.

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Which leads me to a thought.

In the last 60 years, the biggest software platform for interop and integration – for new products, services, businesses, and value creation – has not been Android, or iOS, or Windows, or the PDP-11. The biggest and best platform has been the web.

The Internet of Things, by allowing devices to connect directly to the web – using platforms like Berg – takes the PC out of the picture, and lets us create products directly on that platform.

Wherever there were Windows PCs in businesses, there’s now the web.

Wherever there were peripherals connected to that PC, there’s a need for a new peripheral… just the same, but with a simple web API.

Every time you see a dated PC, only running the back-office because of the peripherals hanging off it, there’s a product opportunity.

Nothing crazy, nothing ocean boiling. Very normal.

But huge.

Dev Center refresh

We’ve just rolled out a refreshed Dev Center! If you take a look at Manage Projects, you’ll notice some changes. “Manage Projects” is where developers create projects to connect devices to the Berg platform, and where the developer tools live. The refresh follows on from the recent reference documentation refresh.

A quick run-down of what’s changed:

  • “Manage Projects” (previously “Your Projects”) is now in the new look and feel
  • Sign in/Sign up is now part of the Dev Center. Previously all user account management happened through Remote, the mobile website used to interact with Berg-enabled products (specifically Little Printer). We’re reducing our reliance on Remote
  • The “Guest Projects” feature has been removed. Now to debug a device connecting to Berg, you must own the project it’s a part of
  • The “Collaborators” feature has been removed. To manage a project, sign in as the user who created the project
  • The functionality to manage commands and events has been re-organised into three pages: Define, Monitor, and Send
  • The “Little Counter” tutorial documentation has been updated to the refer to the new site

There’s also been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to prepare for upcoming updates to the Device API and the Cloud API (simplifying and adding features to both), and new ways to connect to the platform (there’s some urgency because we sold out of v1 Devshields this week).

Our goals are to make the Berg platform

  • dead simple to understand
  • dead simple to use
  • time-saving for developers of connected hardware
  • a place that brings hardware makers and web developers together

This new release simplifies the dev tools, and lays the groundwork for simplifying the various platform APIs.

Getting there!

Four types of Internet of Things?

I’m currently pulling together a few slides to introduce Berg as a platform to a few manufacturers.

Which means I’ll be introducing the Internet of Things!

As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about the term “Internet of Things”… it seems to mean everything and nothing. Like, is it RFIDs in airports to track luggage, combine harvesters driven by town-wide WiMAX, or web-connected receipt printers for the home? Too much.

So for consumer Internet of Things, it seems useful to make categories (I’m going to ignore agriculture, health, industry and whatnot). Each of the four categories seems to be aligning around a wireless technology… or a pattern of user interaction… or a marketing term… or something. But they seem like different things, at least in early 2014.

The idea is that the manufacturer should choose the user benefit they most want to enable, then choose the category that best fits. That will drive their technology selection, how their product is developed, etc. Much more useful than the general term “IoT”.

Here’s my slide so far (tap for embiggening).

consumer_iot

For me these categories are driven by different things:

  • Wearables — battery-powered smartphone peripherals aligning around Bluetooth LE, but also devices that don’t require their own connection to the web
  • Media — music and movies
  • Home automation — low latency interactions (sub 100ms) mean round-tripping to the web isn’t possible; strong need for product interop
  • Connected products — products requiring their own direct network connection, with a tightly coupled service (this is where Berg is)

There are other connectivity models, and I reckon that this time next year categories will have merged and others appeared. But for the moment… this is a good reflection of market reality.

Or is it?

I’ve opened comments on this post! Let me know what you think, either here or on Twitter. I’m @genmon.

Devshields out of stock

Oops, we’ve sold out of Devshields.

These developer boards are the easiest way to start prototyping with the Berg platform and make your own connected products! They are compatible with Arduino, Arm mbed, and Raspberry Pi. Read more here.

We’re heads-down right now working on adding new features to the platform… and when that’s ready, there will be new hardware to prototype with.

So for the moment we have to sit tight… it looks like a couple of weeks right now. Sorry. And watch this space!

Friday Links

I’ve always wanted to write Friday Links, but the other Berglets have always appeared reluctant to hand over the keys to the links cabinet. So I snuck in, after hours, broke down the door, and compiled a list of what’s been keeping the studio entertained and educated this week.

1. Helen shared an ever-changing map of Europe’s borders. The dates should be taken with a small pinch of salt, but the transformation is stunning and the soundtrack suitably epic.

2. Phil recommended TileArray, which takes a photo and recreates it as a photo mosaic made from album sleeves. So here’s a picture of Phil, in which his face is literally made out of Elton John, Westlife and more. Nice one, Phil!

e4cc

3. I liked this visualisation of European air traffic over a 24-hour period. The video was made by NATS, who describe themselves as “the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services”. Judging by the amount of traffic in the video (it’s quite terrifying, frankly), I’d say they were doing a very good job indeed.

4. Nick liked this video so much he posted it onto the twitters.

This, of course, was shared just two days before news broke that Facebook had purchased Oculus Rift for a fiver, prompting an unparalleled gnashing of teeth throughout social media. Personally, I think the outcome could be a) bad, b) good, or c) somewhere in-between. But what do I know?

5. Finally, a bit of music. This is Essa. He’s very good, and he’ll be performing at the Jazz Cafe in London’s swinging Camden precinct on 23 April. I’ll see you down the front.

Bonus track. Joe insisted we include this. “Really cool vid”, he says. “I can’t get the song out of my head”. Timo likes it too, and he’s well hard, so I’m not going to argue.

Friday Links

The slightly out-of-date rota on the wall indicates that it’s my turn to collate the links that have floated round the office this week, my first and last “Friday Links” post. So, with the further ado now done…

Link one: There’s always news about other new tools for the Internet Of Thingummies, and this week we saw this Fast Company article, whose lede is “The littleBits Cloud Module – debuted at TED – lets you create your very own objects that are part of the larger Internet of Things.”

Link two: Those of us who drink coffee sometimes drink coffee from the beans that arrive regularly from Pact Coffee. But that’s not the link! This is the link… they use Typeform (that’s the link) to make their online surveys and we like how simple and attractive it looks.

Link three: One of our Little Printer (no, not that link) publications is the Mr Men & Little Miss (no) publication and we liked this photo (yes) of a collection of coloured-in printouts by “jujudivine”.

A picture: The following image was shared with the office email list this week:

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Most people have now been gently coaxed away from their screens, showered, fed, and will soon be back among the productive population. If you gaze into this hard enough you can, I think, see a unicorn flying over a double rainbow to an internet-connected pot of gold.

Little Printer for Business

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I want to talk about a new version of Little Printer

Since we released Little Printer, we’ve heard stories about it being used in commercial contexts. One company using it to print e-commerce orders to a store, in real time, so there’s a paper trail. A restaurant connecting front of house to the kitchen, printing out orders. A point of sale company experimenting with printing receipts…

This is weird! Little Printer prints out its face every time! And there are a thousand networked thermal receipt printers on the market. Surely one of those would do?

So we started looking into why.

It turns out that Little Printer has one big advantage over those other networked receipt printers: It’s developer friendly. There are two developer features in particular:

  • Little Printer, like all devices on the Berg platform, has a presence on the web. So it’s easy to send messages to it… easier than a printer that might connect with a different address each day
  • There are no print drivers and no difficult encoding. You print in HTML (the language of the web), and there are handy tools for development. So it’s easy to get great looking output

It turns out Little Printer is solving a real problem for commercial users!

Announcing Little Printer for Business

Today we’re opening up our trial of Little Printer for Business. The same easy-to-integrate printing from the web, with a business-friendly form factor. Read the Little Printer for Business product brief for features, the roadmap, and how to make an order.

Evaluation kits now available!

Part of Berg’s new direction

I wanted to call out this particular move on the Berg blog because of what we’re not doing.

Little Printer for Business isn’t a Berg product.

It’s a Berg-enabled product.

To create this product, we’ve partnered with Martel Instruments. Established in 1982, Martel Instruments produce and supply compact printers to your exact requirements. This particular thermal receipt printer is a model MCP1000 with some extra smarts added to the inside.

We won’t touch the product… Martel will take orders, produce, and sell the Berg-enabled MCP1000.

With our platform, and the cloud renderer add-on, we’re supplying the cloud services.

I’m excited about this move because it makes concrete the new strap on the front page of our website: Cloud services for hardware innovators.

We’re making possible somebody else’s business. This is exactly how I see Berg’s future. And while the connected products market is so early, we’ll do what we need to do to create the business ecosystem. Maybe this is one way the Internet of Things sector will grow.

Now this is a trial. There are already a couple dozen evaluation kits in the wild using the “Little Printer for Business” back-end, and they’ve printed many thousands of messages. We’re going to see how this V1 Berg-enabled receipt printer is used, and – depending on demand – move to a V2 wifi version with added features. We’re making this trial public (albeit in this low-fanfare Tuesday afternoon kind of way) because we want to talk about this style of partnership more widely, and because we want to see what you think.

What other Berg-enabled products could there be?

Read more

Read all about Little Printer for Business.

Get in touch if you’d like to talk.

Week 456

Last week was good — our Cloudwash connected washing machine concept got some good press. The Guardian, Gigaom and PSFK all had great write-ups (thanks!). But the real warmth was on Twitter, and this was my favourite tweet:

The way we launched Cloudwash was a bit of an experiment for us. Low-key. No pre-briefings for journalists. Sober.

When you’re a consultancy, it’s all about launching fireworks. The work returns to the client after you’re done, so you need to make the loudest noise with the most perfect work possible. And with each project, you start from scratch (except with a bigger PR list). As a tech startup… it’s different. The work and the reputation sticks to us, and we can carry on working on (and learning from) the ideas once they’re out of the door.

So we have to learn a new habit: Learning how to build steadily, and build on previous work too.

That’s evident in how we’re rolling out the new website. Sections are being launched in the new design as they’re completed, rather than one big flash-bang of everything going up. An advantage of this is that we learn as we go. And certain things that feel intractable (e.g. what should our pricing be?) are easier to think about once you’re carrying less in your head and more decisions are made publicly.


Plus the new blog style launched. Looking smart!


Another new habit: We’re spelling the name as a word now, Berg. Not in caps like we have since we first adopted the name. And the company is the technology is the people, so Berg is what we’re calling the platform too.

Simpler.


A platform starts at ground level and gradually grows upwards.

Weirdly I’m reminder of a story I heard about the first city, Catalhoyuk in Turkey, founded in 7,500 BC, and characterised by not having any streets.

To give a bit of background, Catalhoyuk had a population of up to 10,000 people, and a few strange features like a religion that appears to have been based on fear (‘aren’t they all?’ said someone in the room). To me, the most interesting bit is that the houses were all squashed together. No streets!

To get to your house, you had to climb up on top of the city, walk along until you got to your chimney and climb down. You’d live in your couple of rooms, and bury your dead under the floor. Every so often, you’d knock the house down and build another on top of the rubble. And so the hive-mound rose up.

More here.

Not the most inspiring platform metaphor, but there you go.


Cloudwash is foundational. It shows where we stand, and we’ll deploy that work in every single conversation with every single potential partner, alongside Little Printer. That’s more important than a fireworks launch. This is work we can build on.

Still, we haven’t demarcated the whole territory yet.


Speaking of the platform: The APIs, our position in the consumer Internet of Things technology stack, and the public messaging all go hand in hand.

I wrote a list last week (shared on the studio@ mailing list) of what we need to do complete the new positioning… or at least get to the point where there are no loose ends and we can choose what happens next.

What I’d like to is convert this list into a collection of small, launchable mini projects. Self-contained “bricks” that

  • when they ship, we feel a sense of accomplishment
  • make sense to the public
  • we feel proud to add to the foundations

Too small or composed of too many parts, and these bricks don’t carry their own context in the public story, and we don’t feel like there’s anything been completed. Too big and the work is too heavy and complex for us or anyone else to digest.

At Amazon, the press release is written first.

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

(That link has a press release template.) That’s one route.

I’m also reminded of what I’ve heard from a couple of startup founders: Have a weekly rhythm to announce news. It doesn’t need to be much (tweaks to the design, some stats) but it should be something. Every week.

Maybe we should adopt that.


In a way, what we’re doing now is the Oldco Mag+ project writ large. First there was the world building of the design concept and film. Next came the insane technical build in the project we called El Morro, the kick-off for which resulted in my favourite weeknote ever. El Morro wouldn’t have been possible without the direction being set by the film. But El Morro was the execution, the work that meant we were the actual first magazine on the iPad, rather than the design inspiration for a bunch of others.

Little Printer and Cloudwash, world building projects both. Now our work is to put the platform in the hands of everyone, to make it possible for anyone to build these things for themselves.


So this week I’m trying to think of our bricks, and what our steady rhythm of public work is. I’ll probably bounce some ideas around on studio@ later today or tomorrow.

This week we’re also planning on changing desks, to all sit closer together.

(One of the things about getting smaller is that some processes and habits need to be removed. So there are lines of communication that we used to need – meetings, teams, etc – that now we can more efficiently do without. For example, we can sit round the same tables inside the perimeter of a single conversation. I think a bunch about what else we can improve by simplifying.)

Lastly I’m thinking about partnerships. While we build the platform, I want to extend our runway in smart ways. We should be looking for grants to develop more projects like Cloudwash… only more in alignment with the new plan (I’m writing applications this week). We could be doing design services, to help manufacturers figure out the future of connected products with actual prototypes. That would be good. We closed some work, just last week, with a Swiss manufacturer, to do just this kind of very early prototyping. But it won’t be public, and my ideal case would be public work. So both Jack and I will continue with conversations to bring in that kind of project. We’d like to line some up.

There were some interesting conversations last week too – a brief that should come in this week for us to look at, another (small) contract nearing the end of negotiation stage, a potential partnership with a manufacturer for them to make some Berg-enabled devices – but nothing’s in till it’s in.

Any more time we can get out of the runway is time that can go into building value in the platform, and giving it time to find product-market fit and get traction.


Something from over the weekend.

I posted my first article on Medium, my recipe for chicken pilau. Great authoring experience. Medium feels like a very complex product under the hood that presents itself very, very simply. Even a detail like the search page on mobile is utter perfection.

Yet Medium is plainly incomplete: There’s no authoring experience on mobile. Etc. Medium has that balance between self-contained, foundational bricks… and a product which is not done yet and still growing. Good. That’s how to build.


Denise just posted a pixel Little Printer with a wobbly hat. Worth a look and a laugh. Lovely.

Friday Links

Hello everyone! This is my first Friday Links. Although this week you could be forgiven for calling them Andy Links! Three out of the four have his name on em. Here goes…

First up we had these Roentgen objects - amazing transforming furniture recently exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Beautiful hidden mechanism on show in the video. It made Denise think of a real life version of The Room.

Next was a fantastic video showing a robotic arm in action – in this case doing a little bit of large scale multi axis 3D printing in metal!

You might have caught this already but here’s a link to a great Horizon programme summarising the ideas of Daniel Kahneman. His book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is a good read too. 

And finally, a smart way to increase the graphical real estate of a sign, by illuminating with red, green and blue to bring out different elements. As shown in this billboard for IKEA. Nice!

Have a lovely weekend.

—Tom