The Eve V crowdsourced tablet proves you really can design your own PC

When you boot the Eve Technology Eve V detachable tablet, you’re met with a splash screen that says, “Design by them us.”

The implication is that this is your tablet, made for you according, to your own specifications (or at least, someone like you). It’s a whimsical nod to the “crowdsourcing,” or “crowd development,” process that was used to create the Eve V’s design, and that has kept the machine in the technology news cycle since it was first conceived back in 2015.

The concept grew out of Eve Technology’s experience with its first product, the T1 tablet, and its buyer’s vocal ideas for how the machine could be better. That kicked off the embrace of crowdsourcing. Now that the Eve V has sold out its first flash sale in three hours, and units are shipping to early Indiegogo buyers, we can look back on the machine’s timeline to see how successful the crowdsourcing process is at giving buyers exactly what they wanted.

Bottom up, not top down

What, exactly, is this “crowdsourcing” concept? We asked Eve Technology’s CEO, Konstantinos Karatsevidis. He told Digital Trends it means, in essence, allowing people who are going to actually use a PC determine what it looks like, how it’s designed, and what components go into making it work. It’s not Microsoft, or Lenovo, or HP deciding what features users want based on some combination of research, corporate intuition, and profit objectives, but rather a democratic process aimed at delivering what users want, as expressed in an active community of more than 4,000 like-minded people.

That meant hosting hundreds of conversations at the Eve community site, opened in early 2016, where users made suggestions, commented on ideas, debated which features are more important, and decided which components should be selected to enable them. Votes were held, and the winners incorporated into the Eve V’s design.

Along the way, as Karatsevidis, puts it, “The biggest challenge is that we didn’t want to influence the discussion towards our own interests.” Eve Technology acted as a focus group moderator, helping the community accomplish its purpose, while working hard to avoid influence on the outcome.

The result is the Eve V, a device that our review found offers similar design and build quality to the industry standard, Microsoft’s Surface Pro, at a lower price. Most notably, the Eve V challenges the Surface Pro with a display that is just as bright, equal in contrast, and with wider and more accurate color support. It’s an impressive achievement for a niche 2-in-1 built in low volumes.

Breaking traditional models

Achieving quality with such unusual methodology wasn’t an easy task. In fact, Karatsevidis said, “If (at the beginning) we could have known everything, like how challenging the whole industry is, maybe we would have never started.” The display we lauded in our review represented one such challenge — the first version presented to Eve Technology by its partner original device manufacturer (ODM) was subpar.

That decision was a departure from Eve Technology’s strategy of selecting components, rather than letting the ODM make the decisions, which Karatsevidis said is the traditional model used by other PC makers. The ODM chose wrong, selecting a display that was competitive with the Surface Pro that was the benchmark at the time, but not superior to it. Eve Technology decided to delay the Eve V while they searched for a better alternative, finally settling on the display that so impressed us in our review.

The delay wasn’t without a cost. The Eve V is shipping after the introduction of the newest Surface Pro, which upped the detachable tablet game. In particular, the new Surface Pen technology built into the latest Surface machines offers features and functionality — 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt — that the Eve V can’t match. It would’ve been competitive if it had shipped earlier in 2017, as planned.

In the end, though, the delay doesn’t bother Karatsevidis all that much. “Maybe the delay wasn’t so bad,” he said, “because the display we had (before the delay) was basically the same as you’d see in the Surface Pro 4 and Pro. This one is a little bit better if you look at the spec sheet, and (to really see the quality) you need to compare them side by side.”

Mediating between desire and design

One can’t be faulted for wondering how such a small team — Eve Technology only recently grew to nine people — could design and ship a complex piece of personal computer technology. The answer is that the company acts as a middleman between Swedish design firm Propeller Design and the Eve community, and between the design firm and the ODM. The community voiced its desires, which Eve Technology translated to the design firm, and then the final design specifications were communicated to the manufacturer

Eve Technology wasn’t alone, either. It had early help from Intel and Microsoft, who provided some technology grant funding to go with cash from a Finnish government developmental program, and the investments made by more than 4,000 Indiegogo buyers.

In fact, it was these two mammoth companies that helped Eve Technology navigate the ODM world and select the right partner to manufacture the Eve V. That was vital assistance, helping the small company avoid many of the obstacles it faced when creating the T1 tablet — which included nearly being scammed a few times along the way.

Intel’s interest in the project is obvious, while Microsoft’s involvement was thanks to that company’s extreme compartmentalization. The Windows 10 team was excited to see a new, dynamic company create an interesting new product to show off the operating system’s capabilities, though the Surface team was not quite as excited about funding a competitor to the Surface Pro.

Perhaps Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was the tiebreaker, having expressed an interest in the Eve V according to a story last year by Business Insider. And indeed, Nadella has received one of the first Eve V’s shipped, as promised. As far a we know, he hasn’t yet voiced a preference for it or the Surface Pro.

Democratic compromise

The Eve V uses seventh-generation Intel Core Y-series processors rather than either the faster U-series CPU, or Intel’s latest eighth-generation quad core models. But it’s not due to timing, or the power savings and thermal advantages afforded by low-power processors. It certainly wasn’t based on price, Karatsevidis stressed. Contrary to what some might believe, the Core Y-series chips cost the same as their U-series siblings.

Eve V built around Y-series CPUs because that’s what the community decided. It was the most hotly contested decision, in fact, with numerous discussions and debates over the tradeoffs between faster performance and better battery life, and over the value of a simpler and more reliable thermal design. Eve Technology didn’t weigh in on the decision. As with every aspect of the Eve V’s design, the community voted, discussed, and voted again until a winner emerged.

In our testing, we found the Eve V is slower than the Surface Pro, but it also provides better battery life. Given that tablets aren’t usually primarily used for hardcore processing tasks like video editing but rather are more often carried around for highly mobile productivity, it’s a reasonable tradeoff. That’s the result of a carefully nurtured consensus.

The Eve V is a bit thicker than the Surface Pro, and that’s thanks primarily to the larger battery capacity. It’s not as large a difference as it was when the Eve V was being designed, mind you. The Surface Pro 4 had a 41 watt-hour battery which increased to 45 watt-hours in the Surface Pro, versus the 48 watt-hours in the Eve V. But that, too, was a community-driven decision, based on a desire to compromise a bit on thickness and weight to work longer away from a charger.

All of this doesn’t mean that the Eve community got everything it asked for, though. One example is, again, the display, where using OLED technology was the community preference. At the time, only a few companies were making OLED screens at the required size, and the Eve Technology team decided that procuring one for the Eve V wasn’t possible. Consensus couldn’t overcome reality.

What does it mean for product support?

We voiced concern in our review about whether a small company can consistently manufacture a quality product, and then support it after the fact. Karatsevidis believes that rather than being a hindrance, Eve Technology’s smaller volume affords an advantage that larger companies can’t match.

Specifically, the company has implemented quality checks with the Eve V that are only possible because it’s not being produced in such massive volumes. It’s put through a gauntlet of three third-party companies that look for defects, helping ensure that every Eve V that ships is problem-free.

As for technical support, Karatsevidis is confident that their outsourcing model will keep things manageable. In this case, that means leveraging the existing Windows Update process to deliver component drivers that are provided by the manufacturers as part of their own technical support processes. Each of the components used in the Eve V are industry standard, and already in use in other machines.

What’s next

The measure of crowdsourcing’s success is whether Eve Technology will stick with it for its next project. And the answer is a most definite “yes.”

“Our idea behind crowd development is that we would like to generally ask people what the next project should be. We don’t want to stick to only one category of product, so maybe it could be another 2-in-1, or a smartphone, or a laptop, or an electric car, or whatever,” Karatsevidis said. “I think the next project, we don’t know exactly what it will be, but it will be somewhat in a similar space.”

Already, discussions are underway on that next project, with Eve Technology pumping the brakes only slightly to ensure that the result is a product that’s realistic. According to Karatsevidis, “The only constraint we have for the community is that we don’t want to go for some super crazy idea right now. Let’s not look at smartphones or cars or TV sets. We’re not there yet. Let’s just stay in the computer category.”

If you’re a fan of crowdsourcing, or of Eve Technology specifically, you won’t have too long to wait to see what’s next in the pipeline. The company plans to announce its next project in the first half of 2018.