I’ve got a new product coming up and the customer suggests using Particle. I’m a hardware and software dev that have benefited greatly from the Particle platform in my consulting life. Given my experience with the Particle platform and ecosystem (overwhelmingly positive), I should jump with joy, but I’m not. I’ve pondered this for a long time and my main problem is the lack of focus on radios that work well. If you make a product based on WiFi, you can rest asured that it will “just work” in any controlled setting. If a client is using your product in a factory, you do not know if they have cellular coverage, but WiFi can usually be arranged even if you are 50 feet below ground.
I’m not counting the Spark since that was just a dev board. To me, the first gen of Particle hardware was the Electron, Photon and the P0/P1 modules. These all worked well and when you had prototyped using the dev boards, there was a clear path going forward to develop your products. Particle had many pages on their website dedicated to explaining how you went from prototype to fully certified board. Great stuff! I have developed 3 commercial products based on P0/P1 for 3 different customers. It all runs well on a daily basis and many people can depend on these products.
The next gen hardware was odd. There was the huge E-series module and then it was the Argon, Boron and Xenon. I purchased a few of these boards when they arrived to do some testing. I couldn’t get the Mesh part to work at all, despite following instructions very carefully. Based on this I concluded that I was too early, so I left it on the shelf for a year. I then tried again, had similar issues and decided to not use this in any product.
Not only that - the formerly great pages that explained how to go from prototype to product using Particle suddenly disappeared? I have not yet seen a replacement, so this certainly makes Particle loose a lot of potential customers. This was one of my main reasons for going with the platform initially. Newcomers to a platform just don’t understand how they can go from using Particle Dev Boards to making a product. Now, the best they can do is ask the friendly people on this forum for advice. Most users have a hard time grasping why they can’t just slap on an ESP32 module. They don’t understand the value proposition that Particle offers. We as seasoned Particle devs know how much time we save on each project, but newcomers don’t get it.
While Particle spent time on getting Mesh working, my customers started asking for 5Ghz wifi support. I asked, but nothing was ever announced from Particle. Competitors like Electric Imp have had this for many years, so Particle started to look kind of “old” despite trying to get Mesh working. As time went, more and more bugs were introduced in the firmware and it really seemed like there was so much focus on Mesh that testing with Gen 1 was skipped. We worked around the bugs, but it didn’t instill confidence with my customers.
The only thing that looked promising in terms of Particle hardware were the System-on-a-Module (SoM) with M2 format. Imagine if you could just click in the relevant module for any customer and know that it would just work, not matter the connectivity? This is something I really could use, but there is still no Wifi module. Cat-M1 is fine if you’re in the Americas, but the rest of the world has deployed NB-IoT https://www.advantech-cl.com/resources/news/44842bfb-ccc6-4642-aa53-c9d82386cbbb so with Particle only offering CAT M and no NB-IoT hardware, I really don’t see a clear path forward, given that the two main platforms for me is missing in the future plans?
It should be clear to anyone that you cannot make products based on Dev boards. You can’t just slap an Argon onto your custom PCB and be happy with that. A brief datasheet won’t get you through CE and CB testing. You’ll need modules that come with full documentation, down to the RoHS compliance for every part used on the module. For P0 and P1, this is available through the vendor of the module. For Argon, there is no BOM available that I can find.
Dare I bet on a company that seems to dismiss the only global radio there is (wifi) and only expands in terms of what is deployed in the US? Also - I’d appreciate to get some assurance that P0 and P1 still are good options for new designs and I would absolutely love to hear about the P2 module that supports 5ghz wifi, the P3 module that offers easy to use LoRa radio, the P4 NB-IoT module and the P5 module (a low piced STM32F205 without a radio) that lets you buy these chips with preloaded Particle firmware for ease of use. And then - all of these in M2 form factor so I can pick and choose what the customer wants. Please?