Ongoing Q&A Session between Freewrite's staff and the Alphasmart Flckr Group

In the face of recent emails from Astrohaus offering a buyback on alphasmarts worded in an unfortunately smug feeling way that caused group annoyance, I offered AstroHaus staff a chance to talk, which they’re accepting.

Give us your tired, your poor, your…AlphaSmarts!

Your old Alphasmart gathering dust? Trade it in and We’ll give you $50 towards the purchase of a Freewrite.

Or buy an AlphaSmart off of eBay for $25, you’ll still make money.

It doesn’t even have to be working, we’ll take it dead or alive! (nothing too gross, please)

Limited time only. Shipment must be postmarked by 15 Jan, 2018.

It’s time to upgrade your writing tools.

Here is how the AlphaSmart Buyback Program works:

  • Go here to download a form: Alphasmart Buyback Program.
    Print out the completed form and send it with your AlphaSmart to the address on the form.
  • Once we receive and process the Alphasmart, we’ll send you a discount code good for
  • $50 off a Freewrite. The code will be active for 30 days and is not stackable with other discounts or promos.

Let’s upgrade you to a proper writing tool.

As this is a small group (but open to joining at a drop of a hat) I figure since BoingBoing’s userbase has plenty of creative types it’s perhaps for the best to invite everyone here to join in. I have gotten Adam of AstroHaus to chime in with his design philosophy and ‘who the Freewrite’s intended audience is.’

It was pretty hard at the beginning to have released a prototype for something that we thought was really cool but then get a lot of angry letters saying that is dumb or that it missed the mark. Now 3 years later and my skin is pretty thick. It’s all fine!

The design mantra for the Freewrite was to allow writers to write with as much focus as possible. Functionally this means lowering friction in the writing process so the cognitive burden of thinking about anything other than putting words on the page is minimized. From that philosophy, I wanted to put all of the controls in the face of the user and make them unambiguous. One of my pet peeves are buttons or switches where you can’t tell which position they are in from a glance. The switches on the Freewrite reflect this mantra and is similar to how interfaces are designed in planes, for example, because the pilot shouldn’t have to spend any additional brain cycles thinking how to change a setting or trying to figure which position the switch is actually in. Just about every aspect of the design can be explained through this philosophy. Take the power button for example. It’s on top instead of the side or back because then you only need one hand to operate it and I imagined people pressing the button while they are sitting down, cutting off a second or two between having the desire to write and actually doing it.

I can see how all the above would sound ridiculous but this is the design process I went through. And I think the experiment worked because once people try it, they have about 5 minutes of pain while their brain switches from word processor mode before they enter flow mode and they are off to the races. Writing without the temptation of editing or formatting or button pressing feels almost liberating. That doesn’t make the writing good but if you buy into the notion that you have to write more to get better, the Freewrite should help people become better writers because it helps them write more. That’s the idea!

E Ink is an interesting animal. I absolutely love it when it is used for the right purpose. An ebook reader is ideal. We thought it would work well for writing too, especially since we didn’t plan to put a full editor on the Freewrite. If we had done a full editor like some people wanted, we would have reconsidered alternative screen technologies. This is also part of the reason we have resisted adding a lot of editing functionality because even though people say they want it, would they really like it on a screen that can only refresh at 5 Hz? I think most people would find it frustrating. That is one of the challenges with product design. Do you add functionality knowing that it will satisfy some but complicate for others? That is a very tough thing to balance and the only way I know how to answer that question is by having a very clear vision for what the product should be.

Prices coming down in bulk is a bit of a myth. From 1 to 1000 pcs, there is a big jump down. From 1000 pieces to 10,000 there is more of a discount, maybe 10%. But the discount diminishes quickly. We are already in the volumes where we have most of the discount and any additional discount from larger volumes end up going into overhead to manage the bigger volumes! The real cost savings come when we redesign and change the architecture for lower cost components. But it is very hard to justify the development costs when we haven’t recouped the development cost from the first cycle. Such is the life of a consumer electronics company!

Our core audience are what I call part time professional writers. These are folks that typically write in their ‘spare’ time but are published authors. However, we have writers of all kinds. There is a surgeon in south america that takes notes on his Freewrite. There are lawyers that write briefs on their Freewrites. We have a lot of screenwriters too. There are parents that buy a Freewrite for their kids who have attention deficits. It’s really all over the place.

How do I manage? Good question! I remind myself that I am super fortunate to be able to invent things and turn them into reality. That’s the best job in the world for me! Everything else is just noise.

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