Great ideas can crop up anywhere, but the distance between a concept and a shipped product is measured in sweat and money. Since services such as Kickstarter and Quirky debuted in 2009, an increasing number of entrepreneurs have turned to platforms that entrust the crowd with financing, design, and even marketing decisions rather than relying on risk-averse investors and innovators too close to their own work. The result: A diversity of new products that solve age-old problems and embrace a wired future.
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Sites like Kickstarter and the anything-goes Indiegogo are strictly crowdfunding sites, in which users pledge money to fund projects they like, whereas sites like Quirky take it a step further; visitors to that site not only help vote on which projects get made, but also submit, chime in, and vote on everything from pricing to product names to marketing slogans. These sites blur the line between consumers and creators by giving the invisible hand a visible impact on the rollout of new goods. When everything clicks, funders and voters have the chance to push the market in a new direction rather than passively buying corporate products. This new economic model's most famous test case, an e-paper timepiece capable of displaying e-mails and text messages dubbed the Pebble, has already sold 85,000 units. Crowds turn into mobs in a hurry.
In other words, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are serving as midwives for the birth of cool. And an impressive number of excellent products have already been backed by millions of individual financiers and financed thanks to the backing of millions. There are plenty of silly and pointless ideas as well, but here are 12 innovative and useful products that convinced us that Kickstarter, Quirky, and their ilk are more than a passing trend. Results are results.
The pitch: And what if your smartphone could also be a full-fledged, mouse-and-keyboard computer?
The goods: The Ubuntu Edge was designed to be powerful enough to be plugged into a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and serve as a highly portable desktop computer. On its own, the Edge ran two different mobile operating systems (OS): the popular Android and Ubuntu's mobile Linux OS. Put all that in "textured amorphous metal" with "rakishly chamfered edges." Throw in stereo speakers and a sapphire crystal screen. Garnish with near-universal network compatibility, and you've got a piece of early-adopter mythology.
The result: Both wildly successful and a catastrophic failure, the Edge raised $12.8 million, the most money ever given by crowdfunders, on Indiegogo but never hit its ambitious, all-or-nothing $32 million goal. Had Canonical, the company behind the device, managed to raise the full amount, 40,000 Edges would have arrived on the market in 2014. As it stands, similar Ubuntu-based products will start showing up in small batches in 2014. At least the campaign proved that there was a market for a new type of phone. [$695; canonical.com]