Meet the Man Who Designed Your iPhone (It Wasn’t All Steve Jobs)
Roopinder Tara posted on October 02, 2017 | 3540 views
Those are my babies. Hugo Fiennes in front of the devices that started the smartphone revolution.
Those are my babies. Hugo Fiennes in front of the devices that started the smartphone revolution.
Hugo Fiennes, a distant cousin of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), has another claim to fame. He was instrumental in designing the iPhone.

Fiennes modestly demurs, “Not everyone. Not yours.” He indicates to my iPhone 7 Plus, which I pulled out for an autograph.

By the time of the iPhone 7, Fiennes had left the building—after he had worked on every iPhone from the first to the iPhone 5s. It was a heady—and frustrating—time. “[With each model], we were told we couldn’t put this or that in the iPhone 4 and 4S.”

Then, there was Jobs. He counted the number of positive interactions with the Apple’s genius and turbulent CEO: one. One call from Jobs forced an engineer to step outside of whatever office he or she was in and “walk in very tight circles” as Jobs yelled at him or her.

We met with Fiennes at Autodesk’s Accelerate 2017 in Boston, where he was on a mission to change the world once again—this time with the Internet of Things (IoT).


Nest Is Next

The Nest prototype. The difficulty in connecting devices to the web, in the early days of IoT, allowed Fiennes to create Electric Imp, a
The Nest prototype. The difficulty in connecting devices to the web, in the early days of IoT, allowed Fiennes to create Electric Imp, a "boxed" solution for prototyping IoT.
After leaving Apple, he designed the Nest thermostat, maybe the most famous and successful IoT device. (It was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion.)

Fiennes was at Google for all of two weeks. He had to leave quickly.

“I found out they were making something like my thermostat,” said Fiennes. “If I had stayed, I would have lost my IP.” He and Nest’s other cofounder were set on designing and selling the product.


The Imp: Saving the World With IoT

Now, Fiennes is on a mission to save the world—by helping every engineer incorporate IoT.

“IoT will reduce waste and let products use less energy.”

His latest venture, Electric Imp, which brings his knowledge and experience in coding, hardware and IoT together, aims to make IoT way more accessible to design engineers.

In creating the Nest, Fiennes had trouble with making the initial proof of concept, having to wire an ungainly sprawl of electrical components, sensors and transmitters. He had to worry about the device getting hacked—an issue common with all online devices.

If it was difficult for him, he wondered, a veteran of computer hardware and computer science, “how hard is it going to be for typical design engineer?”

From this realization, Electric Imp was born.

Imp stands for Interface Message Processor—hardware that manages signals from transmitting devices.


Helping Engineers Discover IoT

The IoT Discovery Kit, the product of the partnership between Autodesk and Electric Imp, may be best thought of as IoT in a box. It promises nothing less than a quick way to connect a product to the Internet.

“The Discovery Kit will help the design engineer by getting the data from the connected device to the cloud,” said Lona Dallessandro, in charge of IoT business development at Autodesk.

IoT in a box. The IoT Discovery Toolkit, the product of the partnership between Autodesk and Electric Imp, packs an ARM processor, necessary code, security and Wi-Fi connection into one neat package. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
IoT in a box. The IoT Discovery Toolkit, the product of the partnership between Autodesk and Electric Imp, packs an ARM processor, necessary code, security and Wi-Fi connection into one neat package. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)
What’s inside the little blue metal enclosure may be all the hardware you will need. It has a Wi-Fi connection as well as USB and other wired connections. Instead of the sprawl of components messily soldered together, without having to research and shop for the various technologies, Electric Imp has condensed it into one neat container. The components of the system in the box are industry strength.

“This is not for hobbyists,” confirmed Fiennes.


The Code

IoT design should make you think of having to service a product for its lifetime. Most developers, and design engineers, consider their job done when the product ships. When it’s an IoT device that is “phoning home” for 10 years, the total cost of ownership extends over the total lifetime of the product.

The code has to be maintained—service patches, for example. So, the less code, the better.

Electric Imp does not use Linux code because 1) it was too bloated and 2) the proprietary code was more secure.


It’s the Service, Not the Product

An airconditioning company is in the business of supplying cold air. Yes, it is making and selling air conditioners. But if a company can focus on the service it provides, it can have a real long-term relationship with the customer over a long period, said Fiennes.


The Autodesk Connection

Electric Imp has been chosen to partner with Autodesk’s Fusion Connect. Now, customers can use Electric Imp for the IoT firmware development, connectivity and security part, and Fusion Connect for data management, analytics and business applications.


The Stamp Act

Pitney Bowes, in attendance at Accelerate, discussed how a postage machine was IoT enabled fairly simply by adding an Electric Imp box using a USB port, and with a little setup, it could “phone home” as well as transmit useful information to the people who can service it.

“Service technicians can arrive on the scene, with full knowledge of what the machine needs,” said a Pitney Bowes executive at the conference.


Ease of Use—Even for Design Engineers?

Fiennes insisted that you don’t have to be an Apple wizard or programming genius to use the Electric Imp system. Even a design engineer with a semester of programming can add it to their device and make it work.

If you’re the Dilbert whose boss has asked you to make your company’s line of products Internet enabled, you’ll want to buy what Electric Imp is selling—once it starts selling that is.


How Much?

The IoT Discovery Toolkit is in beta mode. But when in production (later this year), they will give away the hardware devices. Hardware sales is not what the company is about. More important is the IP—the proprietary code embedded in the ARM chip—and saving the world.

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