After four years of development, launch delays, criticism and even litigation, the Pocket PC is about to reach first users. The founder of Smach Team reviews for PIXEL the ups and downs of a unique project in the world
On paper, it is a device ‘made in Spain’ called to revolutionize the world of video games, a booming ecosystem in which it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 million players and whose market will exceed 200,000 million dollars in global value in 2021. It’s called Smach Z and it’s the most powerful portable console in the world. Or perhaps it is more precise to define the gadget as a pocket PC, since the user can do everything that can be done on a computer: surf the internet, watch a movie on Netflix, use programs such as Excel or Word and, above all , play any computer game, including those rated Triple A, titles developed by large companies with exorbitant budgets and that require powerful machines. Without a doubt, a beautiful siren song capable of seducing a good handful of gamers.
All you have to do is browse through specialized forums to see that there are great expectations about the Smach Z, but also many criticisms and even suspicions. And it is that the product, which started on crowdfunding platforms, still does not go on the market after four years of development. Along the way, several company announcements announcing delivery dates (in 2017, 2018 and 2019) that were never met. However, it is time to exchange uncertainty for facts. The console is about to reach the first users. That is at least what Daniel Fernández, CEO of Smach Team, assures PIXEL.
At what moment is the project currently?
The console hardware development phase has just been completed and production has been underway for a few months. The components and the production line have been prepared. We have a warehouse in Illescas, in Toledo, where the consoles are being assembled and we are about to pass the certifications and be able to start delivering the product to the people who have it reserved.
When do you plan to deliver the first units?
We are cautious in giving dates, because problems can arise later, but it can be in a matter of a month.
Will the commercialization of the Smach Z arrive this year?
Hope so. I hope before 12 months. This summer it should be on sale normally.
We take a leap back in time to find out how the project was conceived and the ups and downs that it has suffered since then. We are in a small studio in Mallorca, where Daniel Fernández, Antonio de la Torre and Ignacio Armenteros have been developing video games for computers, mobiles and websites since 2009. The three engineers began to be interested in the most innovative chips in AMD technology and shortly after, in 2014, “this crazy idea came up,” recalls Fernández. “We made a video before starting the development and within a few days it already had half a million views. From there we saw that there was a lot of interest, we did a more serious study and began to develop it.”
At that time, the gamer universe was engrossed with the arrival of Steam Machines, hardware with which Valve, owner of the famous digital video game distribution platform Steam, wanted to bring PC games to home television. By using an open source, a proprietary Linux-based operating system, any manufacturer could present their devices with the approval of Valve. A good number of projects soon emerged, but all of them ended up falling into oblivion as they were not viable. The Spanish engineers did not intend to make their own version of Steam Machine, but to go one step further: to get the games out of the computer’s hard drives to use them anywhere.
SUCCESS IN THE ‘CROWDFUNDING’ AND FIRST REVERSES
The genesis of the device is at the end of 2015 and with the name of ‘Project Steamboy’. A crowdfunding campaign was launched but it did not reach the desired funding and was canceled shortly after. The project was redefined, the name was changed to Smach Z and in June 2016 a new round of financing was launched through micro-dozen, this time with excellent results on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, reaching 673,000 euros and becoming one of the most successful campaigns promoted in Spain with this method.
Everything seemed to be going from strength to strength. Until in June 2017, the project suffered its big setback when the contracted hardware production company, Rhomb.io (a modular platform owned by Tecnofingers), announced that it had terminated its due cooperation, according to the Valencian company in a statement, because the Smach Z team “has not been able to understand or assess the complexity that the development and manufacture of a product of this size implies, both technically and economically.”
“It changed our plan completely,” says Daniel Fernández about the conflict with Rhomb.io. “We had an agreement with ImasD [registered trademark owned by Tecnofingers], a contract with certain terms and a cost with which they gave us a turnkey project. Those terms are what we transferred to the backers [sponsors of crowdfunding campaigns] But, when we started working with them, we saw that the project was not going in the direction it had to go. We stopped working with them after six months “, argues the CEO of Smach Team, who points to said company as the main responsible of the delays that the device has suffered.
Currently the controversy is in the courts, “because we have paid quite a lot of money and they have not done the job that was expected,” justifies Fernández. Rhomb.io, for its part, declined to give its version of events to PIXEL, precisely because the “trial is underway”, although they do point out that “the lawsuit has been filed by us for defaults and other breaches.”