Sphero slashes 45 jobs, pivots to educational market after weak holiday sales of iPhone-co...

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Sphero, the producer of iPhone-controlled toys and programmable robots, has laid off a number of its staff following reportedly lackluster sales over the holiday period, with the firm intending to realign itself more towards the educational robotics market.




Approximately 45 jobs were cut by the firm globally, reports TechCrunch, and though offices in the U.K. And Hong Kong were affected, the majority of layoffs took place at its headquarters in Colorado. The layoffs do not appear to have affected any one specific department in particular, with the staffing changes said to have affected departments all across the company.

"We restructured our team on Friday to better align with our product needs," a spokesperson told the report. "As we look to our product development schedule for 2018 and beyond, we weren't going to go that deep, so we had to make some changes for how the teams were structured."

Known for its product line of ball-shaped rollable robots, it was expected that Sphero would achieve high sales over the holiday period, with the firm shipping app-controlled versions of the R2-D2 and BB-9E droids from 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' to accompany the blockbuster movie's release. The spokesperson admitted to the report sales weren't "exactly what we expected," suggesting the lower revenues had some influence in the pivot.

As part of the restructuring, Sphero will be shifting more of its resources away from commercial products, like the 'Star Wars' droids, and into its existing educational business. Using its hardware from its other products, the company previously offered education-focused versions for use in schools, a market that was overshadowed by the commercial arm's success and its deals with Disney and other major firms.

The Sphero Edu platform provides a way for schools and for parents to teach coding and robotics to children, with it also offering packages to educational customers as a cheap and simple path into the field. This includes the Sphero Edu app, which offers various activities ranging from the basics of coding functions to JavaScript.

Some of Sphero's educational efforts have also featured in its mainstream releases, including two playgrounds for Apple's Swift Playgrounds app that teach users how to control a Sphero toy using Swift.

Sphero is confident in its ability to take on the educational marketplace, with the spokesperson claiming it to be "something we can actually own. Where we do well are those experiences we can 100-percent own, from inception to go-to-market." Despite the increased numbers of firms competing in the field, it is likely that Sphero's confidence is well-placed, considering its existing technology platform and hardware catalog that it can easily leverage.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,976member
    It’s 2018. Who wants these toys anymore?
  • Reply 2 of 16
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,155member
    The subliminal message here is that iPhone sales caused this. Why else would it merit publication if not to cast doubt on Apple’s health? The article makes it seem like Sphero only supports iOS when in fact it supports Android, Kindle, and Chrome as well as iOS. And now there are two AAPL downgrades from analysts. Do you smell a “dump” cycle in the works? See how this works now?
  • Reply 3 of 16
    I own a Sphero BB-8 which I received as a gift.  It's a cool toy....for about 5 minutes.  Then you're done with it and it has little repeat value.  I'll give Sphero credit for creating a pretty authentic miniature reproduction of the Star Wars toys, but that's where the credit ends.  For the most part, these things are glorified RC toys - like an RC car but without the wheels.  It's just not something that has a lot of return value and BB-8 is pretty hard to control unless you have a perfectly smooth, hard floor.  Bottom line - it gets boring fast and it costs a lot.  I'm not surprised they are having issues growing this market.
  • Reply 4 of 16
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,634administrator
    lkrupp said:
    The subliminal message here is that iPhone sales caused this. Why else would it merit publication if not to cast doubt on Apple’s health? The article makes it seem like Sphero only supports iOS when in fact it supports Android, Kindle, and Chrome as well as iOS. And now there are two AAPL downgrades from analysts. Do you smell a “dump” cycle in the works? See how this works now?
    I guarantee that your "subliminal message" is not in this story.
    dacharlolliver
  • Reply 5 of 16
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,631member
    lkrupp said:
    The subliminal message here is that iPhone sales caused this. Why else would it merit publication if not to cast doubt on Apple’s health? The article makes it seem like Sphero only supports iOS when in fact it supports Android, Kindle, and Chrome as well as iOS. And now there are two AAPL downgrades from analysts. Do you smell a “dump” cycle in the works? See how this works now?
    I have to say I didn’t get any of that reading the article. 

    The reason it’s here is that Sphero has supported Apple kit since day one, and their stuff is sold in the Apple store.

    Sphero’s problem is that everyone who wanted a Sphero bought it about three years ago. Their tech hasn’t advanced far enough or diversified enough to encourage folk to upgrade. 


    lolliver
  • Reply 6 of 16
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,599member
    What kids are not interested in playing with robots, what a surprise. yeah it is neat you can control it with your phone, but who cares but a bunch of geeks.
  • Reply 7 of 16
    I also owned a BB-8 and thought it was neat but like Aceatl said above, you play for a bit then you're done. What bothered me the most was that my first impression was that the droid made sounds of its own but these actually came out of your phone, not the droid. It was a cool little gadget but i ended up selling it. Now if they made these the size they were in the movie, it may be another story ;-)
  • Reply 8 of 16
    A robot that doesn’t even vacuum?

    How many IPhone games can you buy for the same price?  And, you can take them with you everywhere...

    Maybe if I owned a starship and needed a navigator...
  • Reply 9 of 16
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,751member
    Far too expensive for what it does. After an hour you start wondering why you paid so much. Ditto for the ones you pay extra for to get the coding feature.
  • Reply 10 of 16
    lukeilukei Posts: 332member
    Sounds like a classic case of a VC funded business that grew staff way ahead of actual sales revenue. 
  • Reply 11 of 16
    I have an Anki Cozmo and it’s pretty cool

    IMO, a superior product.
  • Reply 12 of 16
    I bought my 12yo neice a sphere mini for Christmas - she loved it.  That they have 'races' at the Apple Store and the coding app are great tie-ins.   I was disappointed that swift playgrounds didn't support sphero-mini prior to Christmas - that's a big fail IMO.  I got the idea for this as a present because cousins with children that age had also recently bought them and found they held the kids attention a little longer than the average 'educational toy'.

    Like the posts above have said - the BB-8 versions were aimed at adults - and those who wanted them have already bought them.  There was no way I was paying A$250 for such a toy - but the mini was about $70 I think which was a bit rich, but OK (we had a $50 spending limit - but it was her birthday in January, so we made it a 'combined' present then just bought her something small - clothes I think - for the birthday).

    Sphero's future is in cheaper products which don't require huge licensing fees - and with an educational bent.

    I think they could have sold twice as many of the mini's if they had put more effort into the relationship with Apple to get the Swift Playgrounds integration working sooner.
  • Reply 13 of 16
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,826member
    fallenjt said:
    It’s 2018. Who wants these toys anymore?
    The problem isn't so much the toy as the asking price.    I'm not sure where people get the idea that toys can be sold mass market as luxury items.  

    Another problem is the rather tepid response in America to Science Fiction in the movies.   Many movies have flopped in significant ways, almost as if the country has given up on the dream of a better tomorrow. 
  • Reply 14 of 16
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,826member
    maestro64 said:
    What kids are not interested in playing with robots, what a surprise. yeah it is neat you can control it with your phone, but who cares but a bunch of geeks.
    BB-8 is neat but does very little beyond roll around and drain your pocketbook.   I can see a real potential for robotics but they have to be more capable than a stupid rolling ball that has little functionality.   If you look at drones lots of potential there for individual creativity or even an RC monster truck.   BB-8 though is not capable of much more beyond rolling around.

    I don't think Sphero will be around much longer.   I signed up for their mailing list and didn't find anything of interest in all the E-mails they sent me.   I'm not sure they have a product mix that is of value to most technology literate people.   Going after education is absolutely a death warrant because I don't see anything in their mix of products that have any educational value.   Maybe they will be picked up by somebody that has half a clue.
  • Reply 15 of 16
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,826member
    lukei said:
    Sounds like a classic case of a VC funded business that grew staff way ahead of actual sales revenue. 
    A VC funded business that has no idea what it is selling nor its inherent value.    Imagine if one or more of their robots actually did something useful.   That is the robot had a reason to be beyond rolling about the ground.   Hell if all it did was monitor the weather alert radios for approaching danger and blurted out a message they would have increased usefulness many fold over what you have now.   It would be even better if they robot found its owner to tell them a Tornado is on the way.

    Maybe my examples are poor but there needs to be a why!
  • Reply 16 of 16
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,617member
    I have a suspicion the product would have been viable if they just sold it without the electronic guts, but at a much lower price, as a fully articulated, conversation piece replica that sits on your shelf, desk, or coffee table.  Because unless you're five years old, that's what it's going to do anyway after your first 30 minutes of ownership.
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