Dyson's 360 Eye Robo-Vacuum Arrives Late, and That is Totally Fine
Six Months Overdue, Dyson’s Home Cleaning Robot Finally in Stores
Although it was unveiled over a year ago - in Tokyo by James Dyson himself - and was to be available exclusively in Japan sometime in Spring 2015, the highly anticipated Dyson 360 Eye robo-vacuum has only in the past few days been given a wide release (other markets to follow in 2016).
Dyson’s been making vacuum cleaners for over 20 years, but this is the British firm’s first proper venture into autonomous home service robotics (though they've done their research and have tried before; Google the “DC06”). With advanced room mapping capabilities, track-driven multi-surface mobility, and smart device connectivity all wrapped around Dyson’s trademark super-cyclone suction, the 360 Eye is billed as a considerable leap ahead of the competition. It is an impressive machine, and at ¥138,000 plus tax (~$1,150), it most definitely should be.
Necessary Delay No Big Deal
Although the 360 Eye was initially promoted with a very effective gadget-launch-like marketing campaign, it’s not exactly that, and a delay in this case doesn’t mean what it would from Samsung, Apple, or Sony. This is really a high-end home appliance - as a product, more akin to a washing machine or refrigerator than a smartphone - and in this realm, an inaugural line arriving six months late is better than on-time but undercooked. There’s also James Dyson’s notorious perfectionism and meticulous attention to detail to factor in, and...well - there you go.
Still, some have pointed gadget journalism at this story and characterized the delay as a bad omen or a harbinger of problems to come, but really, if Dyson is to be believed - and there’s little reason for doubt - the rationale behind the delay is entirely understandable: they saw need to make the machine quieter, increase battery life, and fine-tune ledge avoidance, particularly in Japanese homes. That last part is important because of genkan, the main entryways of Japanese homes that are lower than the main floor by a non-standard, case-by-case-variable height. Tightening up that feature was a must for the Japan-first launch.
And there’s another, equally practical reason that the quality of the final product mattered a lot more than adhering to an anticipated Spring 2015 launch: for more than a decade, American firm iRobot, with their tried and true Roomba, has utterly dominated Japan’s home robo-cleaner sector, and to break into that market, the 360 Eye can't be simply “Good enough.” If Dyson hopes to compete, they have to come with a fully realized, demonstrably superior product that hasn't retreated from the promises of last year's debut.
Japanese Makers Wildly Marginalized at Home
Surprising to many, homegrown competition in this sector is minimal. Very minimal. According to Tokyo-based Seed Planning Market Research and Consulting (市場調査とコンサルティングのシード・プランニング), as of March 2015 iRobot’s Roomba models held a commanding 76% of the Japanese robo-cleaner market. Sharp’s Kokorobo sits at #2 with 8.8%, Tsukamoto Aim is at 6%, and a handful of also-rans round things out - and this has basically always been the case.
Okay, good for iRobot, but it really only matters if that 76% is a share of considerable overall sales, right? Well, suffice it to say, Dyson’s not only launching here because of its legacy relationship with the Japanese market, it’s also because iRobot has sold over 1,000,000 Roombas in Japan since their 2004 launch. Japan is not only a trendsetter in electronics adoption, but also the world’s largest per-capita market for autonomous home cleaning robots, so the math is easy: there’s a lot of good PR and robo-profit to be made here.
Dyson a Real Challenger in Japan?
In the domestic home appliance market, this is a unique case where Made in Japan doesn’t factor in. It’s potentially a battle between two foreign companies, and that can make brand loyalty a bit more fragile, which, interestingly, might actually favor the challenger.
In one corner, iRobot effectively owns the Japanese market. Moreover, their flagship Roomba 980, launched here just two weeks ago, is ¥13,000 (~$110) cheaper than the 360 Eye (before tax), and they also offer a full range of entry-level models. In the other corner, Dyson, which actually got its start in Japan, has two decades of name recognition in home cleaning and, though it might seem trivial, an arguably more attractive product. In a nation of relatively affluent middle-class consumers, familiar yet shiny and new does matter.
iRobot seems a nimble, smart company that’s unlikely to fall into the trap of complacent incumbency. Dyson is new to commercial robotics, but they have done their homework, they excel at marketing their products, and home cleaning is old hat. In our analysis, Japan’s robo-vacuum market leader doesn’t need to worry too much too soon, but if indeed the 360 Eye is dialed-in proper, this is the beginning of a very interesting match up.
360 Eye Vital Specs:
- Dyson 360 Eye: Sixteen Years of Research; $47 million Investment
- Super Cyclone Suction Tech: Miniaturized and Incorporated
- Navigation & Mapping: Innovative 360-Degree Visual Mapping
- App Enabled: Remotely Activate/Schedule Cleanings from iOS or Android
- Means of Mobility: Charmingly Purple Tank Tracks (carpet, hard surfaces, and obstacle negotiation)
- Color Variations: Fuchsia; Blue
- Dimensions: Width 242 × Depth 230 × Height 120mm; 2.37kg
- Price: ¥138,000 plus tax (~$1,150)
- Availability: Japan Only (now), Other Markets (sometime in 2016)
Marketing & Glamour Shots: