Dyson, known for its innovative vacuum cleaner technology, sent me an email late last week as a tease for an upcoming product.  It pointed me to a video on their website that held few clues as to what the new product might be… and frankly, was not that interesting.  I'm a fan of Dyson so I thought I'd give them time, and hoped there would be some leaked info that would spice this launch up… but the product launch went downhill from there.

Here's the copy from the email:

"Sometimes the best way to improve an old technology is to completely change the way it works. In 1993, Dyson engineers created the first vacuum cleaner to use cyclone technology instead of bags – because bagged vacuums don’t work properly.
Now we’ve turned our attention to another familiar device - and made it work better by removing something you might have thought was essential. This is a new machine for Dyson. It won't be launched for a few more days, but you can get an idea what it might be on our website."

Several hours later, CNET has a "First Look" at this new product… and it's too short of a timeframe between the would-be viral tease and the when we learn what the actual product is.  There was not enough time to generate any buzz.  Worse, CNET is known as a source for computer and tech news and this product was not exactly in their wheelhouse. And, CNET has an enormous early adopter following and the ability to make or break a product before it even ships.   CNET, in my opinion, tells it like it is.  During his video review, David Carnoy called it "a neat parlor trick" and looked as if he might be having a challenge to keep a straight face.

Turns out this game-changing product is a table fan without blades.  It's other claim to fame is the ability to create 15x the airflow of your normal big-box store table fan.  Dyson has given it the not-so-catchy name of "Dyson Air Multiplier Fan."  OK, a fan without blades is pretty cool and it's safer for kids and pets.  I was momentarily back on board with their plan… until CNET dropped the price and let it hang in the air.  This marvel of engineering, otherwise known as a table fan is… $330 USD…. or roughly 7x the cost of just about any other table fan.

Oh how I would have enjoyed the product development meetings.  Who could keep a straight face in the room when the product manager announced that they were going to market a $330 room fan during the worst economy in 4 decades?

Now I have nothing against Dyson.  I own one of their first generation "Animal" vacuums and aside from normal wear and tear, it has been an outstanding product and well worth what I paid for it.  I would not hesitate to buy another one.  But… it did not cost me $300 more than a comparable vacuum.  It was in the same price point as competing products.

And Dyson has other issues.  Sharper Image, the likely candidate to sell the premium Dyson Air Multiplier Fan, is out of business and Dyson's normal US sales channel includes stores like Best Buy.  The retailers are not going to be too excited to give up precious shelf-space for a $330 fan.   I've yet to see their hand dryer anywhere in the wild.  So, I suspect a lot of R&D money is going into products that may be brilliantly engineered but are what I like to call "million dollar solutions to a five dollar problem."  This isn't sustainable business behavior. 

And, it's no longer summer in the Northern Hemisphere, so an October launch for a fan makes little sense if your biggest market is the US.

I am all in favor of building a better mousetrap.  Without innovation, we would still be driving Model A's, but there has to be a business model that can support innovation.  If the cost to innovate is so steep that it makes you noncompetitive, all you are is the early adopter who will soon find another company has taken your idea and figured out how to execute it at a competitive price point.

I want them to succeed, so I'm hoping as time goes on we will learn it runs on air, reduces greenhouse gases, or can cool an entire house…. something, anything, to justify a $330 price point other than just being a conversation piece.

The moral of the story is that radical innovation still needs to have a sustainable business model.  By all means, get to market as quickly as possible, but make sure you have a product people want at the right price point.