Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The stuff of dreams, or why you should preorder a Pandora now


Sometimes, somehow, a dream is given form.  Anyone who’s a half decent geek will know that Babylon 5 was such a dream, born out of the 1000 year war between the Shadows and every-bloody-one else.  Closer to our age and time, but no less magnificent for it, is the case of the Pandora Handheld. The “About the Pandora” link on Openpandora.org is rather more clinically and Teutonically unabashed about how their dream of “The most powerful handheld there is” took shape:

A few years ago, we (Craig, Fatih and EvilDragon) had the idea of creating an OpenSource Gaming Handheld based on the input of the community. Thus, the Pandora was born.
Luckily, we found a lot of helpful people at the GP32X.com Boards: Michael Weston, who designed the hardware, Dave Cancillier, who designed the complete case and some top developers like notaz, DJWillis, skeezix, vimacs, Pickle, cpasjuste and Squidge, who worked on the kernel, the drivers, the OS and some software ports.”

All this reminds me of the intro from the 70s TV series Salvage 1, which you can read the words of here, but frak it (when’s frak going to become uncool?), it’s 2010 and no one reads anymore - unless by Kindle - and it’s easier to embed youtube:

While Mr Andy Griffiths is no longer with us [b.1926and very much with us – soz, Andy]  I can easily imagine that the OpenPandora TV series will feature, maybe, oh, Charlie Sheen, John Goodman, Albert Brooks and Rowan Atkinson as Craig, Mike, EvilDragon and Fatih, in their later 50s, reminiscing about the good ol’ noughties, and how they wished they had hung onto the last 25 spare units because they’re worth trillions in 2035.

“We’ll go round the world, design the ultimate handheld, take orders from the community, make it, ship it.”

In case you’re thinking that I’ve really, finally, flipped, randomly publishing pictures of last week’s Sunderland Retro Blipfest ‘010 (Thanks to Aunt Macy for the loan of her living room; we love you Mace), well, you’re wrong (that happened about a decade ago, when I discovered the original GBA had no backlight). The guys in the picture above are of course the core members of the Openpandora team who are responsible for the Pandora Handheld.  By their own admission:

Little did we know about how to design a handheld back then [circa 2008]. How long things can take. how complicated everything is. Therefore, we first thought we can deliver it December 2008, just before Christmas. Well, it didn't work out. Not even close.
There were delays. And more delays. And... more delays.
However, we never gave up - and finally, in May 2010, the first units have been delivered to the customers!
While production is still a bit slow, the speed is increasing, so that we expect to have 8000 Pandoras delivered by the end of the year

Speaking as a frustrated salaryman, watching the remnants of my youth, creativity and life essence drain as I encounter day after day of ceaseless, unyielding life-sucking monotony at the office, I can only speak the word “Respect”, in my broadest Ali-G accent, to the Pandora team.  It is easy to talk, but it takes real drive to deliver.  Steve Jobs put it best: “Real artists ship”.  Heck; they’ve actually shipped. Who would’ve thought?

I’ve wondered what would bring anyone together like this. Look at the profile of these guys:

Craig: Craig Rothwell, better known as craigix on the community boards, is the one guy who took most of the risk of the project onto his shoulders. He did most of the organization with all the companies, the money, etc. Craigs shop GBAX.com is very well known since years. He specialized in selling retro- or homebrew-enabled devices. He is always adding more unknown but cool devices for low prices.

Mike: Michael is the hardware guy behind the Pandora. He did all the research and testings and designed the complete board. He's living in Canada.

EvilDragon: Not many guys do know Michael by his real name - he's mostly known as EvilDragon in the various communities.
Living in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Germany, he's responsible for many small things in the Pandora projects. Helping out here and there, e.g. creating the renderings from Daves case data, creating some videos, posting news, testing the firmware and giving back ideas, talk with the community, the devs, etc. In his real life, he does produce spots and clips for TV and cinema, however, since he was a child, he loved gaming consoles and therefore collects them. Quite a few years ago he got a GP32 - and from that day on, became an active member of gp32x.com (and shortly after a moderator).
Half a year later, he created the GP32x File Archive - a download archive where ALL GP32 Homebrew games could be browsed with description and pictures, sorted into various categories. ……… Later, when GPH announced the gp2x, he decided to try to establish a german community and open up a shop here. It all went well. The shop is known for its great service.

Fatih: Mehmet Fatih KILIC is known as "mfk" in various Turkish Communities and GP32X Boards. He lives in Istanbul, Turkey. He majored International Finance and his speciality is Foreign Trade Consultancy. He's mainly responsible of sourcing parts and making contacts with companies in Pandora project.  …….. Working in the same industry since 2001, he became an expert in CCTV field. He consults distributors in Turkey and manufacturers in countries like China, S. Korea and Taiwan. He plays an active role in developing new products and services in this field. His articles are being published in important industrial magazines worldwide. Even he's quite busy, he always finds time to play guitar, develop professional web based applications, travel a lot, learn something new and enjoy his life.

Here we appear to have a classic startup – the business guy, the hardware guy, the everything guy, and the logistics guy.  And this got me wondering: look at the above.  They all appear to have day jobs (well, I’m assuming the hardware guy, who lives in Canada, is not popping in regularly to Openpandora central in the UK, so he must do something else).  This makes the fact that Pandora is actually shipping all the more remarkable, particularly if you read about their long hard road travelled – and then some, with more to come - in the blog and the GP2x forums.  Someone had to make it all happen; someone had to pour time and energy and money into all of this, all while juggling work, partners, kids(?), life.  And who are they? 4 guys with day jobs, like you, like me, only more driven (and let’s face it, undeniably more good looking).  What would possess them to do this, and why?

Let’s start at Capitalism 101.  Is the answer money? Well, obviously the answer is in part money; but is Openpandora going to make anyone rich? Never, I put to you, ever as rich as this:


Let’s take a look at OpenPandora Ltd’s publicly available accounts (admittedly, they are a snapshot as at 28 February 2009, though lodged at the UK Company Registrar 24/07/10):


For the benefit of our (justifiably so) not-riveted-by-financial-accounts subset of the Dingoo-scene readership, the above shows that as that as at 28 February 2009, OpenPandora Ltd had 197,238 GBP in cash (presumably pre-order payments), against 202,570 GBP of liabilities (presumably supplier accounts payable).  It also had 708 GBP of hard tangible assets, presumably their nice soldering irons and workbenches.

Interestingly, at the going rate of about 280GBP for a Pandora, 197,238GBP equals about 700 Pandoras, which is a little odd, as the first batch of 4000 units reportedly sold out well before 28 February 2009, and had to be prepaid.  However, let’s not forget that a balance sheet is only a snapshot in time of a company’s financial position, and we don’t know, for example, exactly how many operating entities might be controlled by Openpandora Ltd, so I’d caution about drawing any unwarranted conclusions about where the rest of the preorder change is.

The accounts also show that Openpandora Ltd has issued fully paid share capital of 3GBP, made up of 3 ordinary shares of 1GBP each. Who owns these shares? Here’s the answer:

1-002 1-003

The 3 shares on issue are owned by Craig Rothwell, Jacquelyn Jones and Debbie-Leigh Jones.  Based on these records, none of the other Pandora contributors are on the Share Register, and thus, none of them have a legal interest in Openpandora Ltd’s ownership.  Again, not knowing more about how any arrangement was structured between the Openpandora founders and other contributors to the Pandora project, no inferences should be drawn about this.

Based on the above though, wealth and fortune, in the sense of Gordon Gekko’s LIQUID, is generally speaking, a way off for Openpandora’s core team.  And that answers the question I posed above.  Why do it? Well, it’s definitely not for the money, IMHO.

So it must be for the love of it. 

When you think about it, this makes intuitive sense! What’s not to love about a project like this? How often does anyone with a day job get to actually do everything necessary to make something that captures all anyone could want a piece of video-gaming hardware to reflect? How often do 4 guys end up in a room together, with the skills, contacts, resourcefulness and ability to somehow, against the odds, actually deliver something that will, I contend, become a true classic of this scene? There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before about the Pandora story, and it may be that now, caught up in my own conjecture, I am venturing to heights I cannot possibly have any basis for assuming.  I can’t shake this feeling though, and I believe, truly believe, that this is not just another console.  It’s about as close as you’re going to get to a customised, handmade mechanical davinci calculator, reserved only for Kings; a device on the cutting edge of what is readily possible that is built with passion by modern day guild craftsmen in a venture the likes of which I have never heard of in this day and age.  Even if the hardware is longer in the tooth today than it was back in ‘08, it comes with lots of kharmic goodness, and is an absolute steal for 280GBP.

So here, as at August 2010, we stand on the verge of 8000 shipped Pandoras due by the end of 2010 (check out the counter on the right hand side for how many readers of this site actually have a Dingoo, by the way, and clicked, to put these numbers into perspective). If you preorder now, you could hope to get one before Christmas.  However, remember that its taken the best part of 2 years to ship 600 of them and there are presently problems with the control nubs, necessitating interruption to mass production. It’s mid-August now, so don’t be too upset if Santa disappoints.

Anything could happen. There could be more defects, suppliers defaulting, or rents not being paid, or developers falling out or breaking legs.  The plastic might turn out to harbour mutagenic microphages which will bring on the dawn of the Zombie age.  The Gamepark Caannoo might turn out to be, like Caanyeeah, and really, really good.

And this is precisely the point: you need to get off that ass, and preorder from batch 2 immediately, without worrying about consequences the way the Openpandora team did. Be true to the vision, which was ultimately the community’s vision – your vision.

Get one now, because - and while - you still can.


  1. The handheld is sooo sweeet but it cost as much as a mini laptop...

  2. brilliant post here

  3. I would probably blackout those home addresses though

  4. I got off that ass and pre-ordered two weeks ago. I've been following the project from early on, I wish I had done it earlier.

  5. This handheld/mini computer is way toooo OLD now. why spend that kind of money on outdated technology, where I have my 5 yr old PSP doing almost exaclty the same thing minus the keyboard. PSP 2 is right around the corner. If the price is right i would too support the Pandora but i guess not due to the HIGH price of a homemade console where theres NO business struture in place to fully support it. I know a few people who waited almost a year and a half for it with no solid leads on when it will be released. So they got there refund back...thk god. Sorry....not my kind of cup of tea. Good luck to those who purchased the Pandora


  6. Andy Griffith isn't dead.

  7. Pandora may as well be though.

    They've been talking the same PR trash for years now and have delivered how many?

    With what kind of support?

    Sorry, but it's all just a lot of talk.
    There is nothing here to desire any more.

  8. Its a shame that yall think this Pandora Project fell thru. I have my Pandora and it is truly a device that NEEDS to be seen and used to be believed.
    Its a gaming system and Handheld Netbook... in one.
    Never knock it ...until you are a owner of one.
    Its the greatest Geek Device built since the Pong Machine back in the 70's

  9. Hiya Strider - Soz that you feel that way about the Pandy. My point was that I think the PR does add up - though a little oddly. I do think it's odd that the accounts bear no resemblance to the amounts supposedly collected in pre-orders, and that none of the team members except C Rothwell seem to have any share in the company itself. At the end of the day though, if you're going to order one of these, it's strictly for reasons other than value for money. Whatever happens, I don't think we'll see one of these happen ever again, for quite some time beyond batch 1 or 2 ... unless maybe someone in China orders and actually gets one, reverse engineers it, and sell's 'em for $95 on DX.

  10. I 100% agree with Strider & Gadgetmister

    Rush...AKA Handheldmaster

  11. I'll hold out for the knockoff version.
    It'll get to market in a decent time and they'll understand what language the plastic molding people are speaking so there won't be a year long quest to mold the perfect shoulder buttons lol.

  12. The Pandora exists and people love it. It's selling well and has delivered what was promised, perhaps a little longer than expected but we can cut some slack as Open Pandora's not some giant corporation like Sony, who only want your money :) The community is active and enthusiastic.