Archive for October 30th, 2009

RED needs a kick in the butt

Disclaimer: The following is meant as an analysis of the situation based on my experience as a tech journalist for some 8 years, and on my own personal opinion. It’s not meant to disrespect RED, or its founders. In fact, as a true tech geek, I am a fan of the whole RED project!

UPDATE 2: And now I am BANNED from the REDUser forum, for discussing my points VERY CALMLY with others. I was name called, but I never name called back. I simply explained my points, civilized, as you can read there.

UPDATE 3: Re-instated at the forum. Thanks everyone who spoke up about it.

RED just published an update on their vaporware line. You can read about it here & here.

Basically, these are hyperbole vaporware products, made by hype machines rather than engineers. Oh, I don’t dispute the fact that maybe 1-2 of these products announced last year and today will see the market at some point, but I do dispute the fact that they will be able to create all that stuff they are promising, and at the prices that they are promising. Already, now it’s becoming obvious that getting a usable Scarlet model is a $10k affair, and not a $3.5k as they had you to believe last year.

All this made me remember of my mother who used to tell me about an old man in her mountain village (I believe he’s long dead now) who had this moto: “promising is gaining, giving is losing”.

Basically, RED is a dream. Not your dream. But Jim Jannard’s dream. The guy’s a billionaire, and so he put together the RED company on the side. It’s obviously his “hobby” (it certainly feels that way). If the company goes nowhere eventually, oh well, at least he had fun doing it. But I keep thinking that all the millions he had poured into this, he could have either:
1. Simply make small modifications on the original RED while continuing R&D on new technologies without promising the most crazy things to his customers. Instead, follow a more traditional path regarding R&D and production.
2. If he just wanted to pour money down a hole, he should have given the money to people who need it instead, e.g. via Unicef.

Not all is bad from the whole story though. RED *has* contributed in the move from film to digital in Hollywood. I give them credit for that, and I thank them for that. But unfortunately, 99% of the time, it’s never that “first” company with the vision that ends up taking over that market. Instead, it’s the second or the third company in that sector who will learn from RED’s mistakes and dominate.

What I am saying here is that RED is going to die. There’s no way Jannard and his zillions can sustain this crazy business model they have. Just like the Xerox Alto was the first graphical personal computer of its kind but never went anywhere, RED will be seen the same way in 10-20 years from now. We would see RED with this romantic eye, but there won’t be any RED left at that point.

Who’s going to steal their thunder? In my opinion, it’s Canon. To create such complex technology, and especially at competitive prices, it requires an already established company with vast experience of both the technology and the market. Canon has the ability to simply evolutionize (rather than revolutionize) their existing technologies and catch up with RED — and even become better than them. Evidently from their recent VdSRLs and the rumored large-sensor prosumer cameras coming next Spring, I personally see Canon taking over Hollywood with as of yet un-announced offerings sooner than later.

But RED? It is Jim’s dream, and we were all in it. But I just woke up. I just hope Jim does too. Jim, save your money. That’s all I can say to you. Because I am a fan!

Update 1: A lot of people have a problem with the word “hobby”. Let me be clear about this. I believe that Jim does have a genuine interest about what he’s doing! He’s not an amateur. When someone has a serious hobby doesn’t mean that it’s just something he/she does on weekends.

But what it also means, in my book, is that he/she could be starting the business based on the interest about the technology in itself, and from pure curiosity, and for the cool factor, and not to create an actual profitable business. To me, a lot of things RED feel like “if it becomes profitable, even better — if not, well, we had fun researching and playing engineers”. While this is all fine if you’re a billionaire, it doesn’t strike me very nice if I was to be a customer.

I simply — for the life of me — can not take seriously RED when they spread themselves too thin over so many products. I just don’t see these as actual final products, I see them as beta stuff that someone put together in an R&D lab. Proof that the RED One had so many firmware upgrades so far. A “product” with the traditional sense, in that price, should have been bullet proof from Day 1. And I just don’t see this happening with the new line of cameras — if they ever come out.

In other words: In my own opinion, RED doesn’t know how to release PRODUCTS. There’s a difference between breaking new technological ground, and actually putting that new technology in an actual product. A product that is meant to be a product, and not a lab unit.