Reflections on creating my first Apple approved product in over 5 years

This week we launched the Kit by Livio in Chicago at the RAIN show.

I was driving to the RAIN show from Detroit on my way to the show and it dawned on me that it’s been over 5 years since I’ve launched an Apple product (last one was the iDJ). The same day I saw a twitter post mentioning how important it is to make products great and it prompted this blog.

Getting to this launch was a ton of work. Not only did we have to develop a full consumer electronic product. We also had to get the product MFI approved through Apple, and make sure that our Car Internet Radio application was in great shape (now 4/5 stars.)

This is one of the most difficult products to bring to production I have ever worked on for the reasons mentioned but there were a few (behind the scenes) things that we had to do to get the Kit right.

Our mission with the Kit was to change the way people listen to radio in their current car. Everyone knows that smartphones are taking over “feature phones” and we decided to start first on the iOS platform as I’m a huge mac user (ask anyone in our office.) The problem we needed to solve was the entire experience in the car. Our application was great and our current users loved the app. The problem was getting anyone with a iPhone to use the kit in their current car.

To do this not only did we have to develop a great application experience in a car with voice command, song presets, and “smart scan” to find cool online radio, we also had to make a good handsfree car kit, and a good FM transmitter. Two things that make most tech folks cringe…

I chose to use a CSR BC05 module as it’s the industry standard for car kits, and CSR has over 70% of the Bluetooth modules. It was also cool that Avnet sells a CSR development kit that works with the Apple chipsets. From there, like other great accessory companies (Belkin, Griffin, Scosche, etc) we had to start developing the microphone so it wouldn’t sound like a drive through window, and get the FM transmitter working so the in car audio experience wouldn’t sound like a 1940 AM radio.

Ironically we got the Apple code working quickly and the autostart for our application without any issues. At the last hour before we submitted for final approval, we weren’t playing with the Livio application or the button commands, we were messing with the CSR Bluetooth voice and echo cancellation settings. The final hardware changes were related to the FM antenna positioning to broadcast.

Our engineers in Ferndale were literally reinventing the wheel for a technology that’s been around for more than a decade, but it needed to be done so we had control of our product. I get crap all the time from people crying about how bad FM transmitters suck, but I can tell you we have one of the best in the business. And if you don’t have an Aux in or Bluetooth, you have no choice but to use one.

I hear the same thing about handsfree, and honestly, you can only go so far with microphone technology. We put in an automotive grade microphone and spared no expense with the audio quality of the product, but I still have to explain that unless you want to mount a lapel microphone on your seatbelt, it’s going to sound like you’re in a car talking on a speakerphone. And if you live in a state like CA where talking on a cell while driving without a handsfree is illegal, you don’t have too many options, unless you want to spend the extra time to dock when you get in the car.

All that being said, I am very proud of this product and our crew at Livio that put it together. I have no doubt that this is the strongest product we have done, and I have been involved with in my career. From the user guide, to the packaging, and everything in-between, I’m happy. And if I’m happy with it, I know our customers will like it.

With all of our upcoming business development in Detroit with automotive OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, and other CE accessory companies, it’s hard to stop and celebrate. But with the Kit, and my first Apple approved product in over 5 years, I’m pretty pumped up.

The rest of my drive to Chicago involved rocking one of my new fav apps 8tracks on a badass electro mix with full volume on my Boston acoustics system in the 2002 rustbucket!

Believe and you will achieve. You will become what you think about.