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On paper, it is a 'made in Spain' device called to revolutionize the world of videogames, 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 of global value in 2021. It is called Smach Z and is the most powerful portable console in the world. Or perhaps it is more precise to define the device 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 the qualified Triple A, the titles developed by large companies with exorbitant budgets and that require powerful machines. Undoubtedly, a beautiful siren song capable of seducing a good handful of gamers .
It is enough to give a sweep through specialized forums to verify that around the Smach Z there are high expectations, 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 change uncertainty for facts. The console is about to reach the first users. That is at least what assures PIXEL Daniel Fernández , CEO of Smach Team.When is the project currently in? 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 ship in Illescas, in Toledo, where the consoles are being assembled and we are about to pass the certifications and to be able to start delivering the product to the people who have it reserved.When do you plan to deliver the first units? in giving dates, because then problems can arise, but it can be in a matter of a month. Will the marketing of the Smach Z arrive this year? I hope so. I hope before 12 months. This summer it would have to be for sale as normal.
We take a leap back in time to know how the project was managed and the fluctuations that it has been suffering 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 begin to be interested in the most innovative chips of AMD technology and shortly thereafter, in 2014, "this crazy idea emerged , " Fernandez recalls. "We made a video before starting the development and within a few days I already had half a million visits. From there we saw that there was a lot of interest, we did a more serious study and started to develop it."
At that time the gamer universe was engrossed with the arrival of the Steam Machines , hardwares with which Valve, owner of the famous digital video game distribution platform Steam, wanted to take the PC games to home television. By using an open source, an operating system based on Linux, any manufacturer could present their devices with the approval of Valve. A good number of projects soon emerged, but they all ended up being forgotten because they were not viable. The Spanish engineers did not intend to make their own version of Steam Machine , but to take another step: to get the games from the hard drives of the computer to use them anywhere .
SUCCESS IN THE 'CROWDFUNDING' AND FIRST REVESES
The genesis of the device is located 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-tens , this time with excellent results in 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 well. Until in June 2017, the project suffered its major setbacks when the contracted hardware production company, Rhomb.io (modular platform owned by Tecnofingers), announced that it had terminated its due cooperation, according to the Valencian company in a statement, that the Smach Z team "has not been able to understand or value the complexity that the development and manufacturing 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 deadlines and a cost with which we were given a turnkey project . Those deadlines are those that we transfer to the backers [sponsors of crowdfunding campaigns] but, when we started working with them, we were seeing that the project was not going in the direction that I had to go. We stopped working with them at six months, "argues the CEO of Smach Team, who points to the company as the main responsible of the delays suffered by the device.
Currently the controversy is in the courts , "because we have paid quite a lot of money and they have not done the work that was expected," Fernandez justifies. From Rhomb.io, on the other hand, they decline to give their version of the facts to PIXEL, precisely because the "trial is under way", although they do point out that "the lawsuit has been filed by us for defaults and other breaches."
After taking full control of the project, Smach Team engineers decided to move on to the next technology. Too much time had elapsed, during which innovations emerged that had to be implanted in the product. The new version of the AMD chip would improve the performance of the console, but it would also mean new delays in deliveries, which ultimately meant new arguments for skeptics and detractors. On this occasion, it was ruled out to order another suit tailored to the product and it was decided to hire the Barcelona company On Testing for the development of electronic engineering , complemented with own resources.
In May 2019, the Smach Z team moved from Mallorca to Illescas (Toledo) . "We wanted to have control of the production, we didn't want to go to China. In Castilla-La Mancha there were many grants to new innovation companies, European funds that support the projects and it is also close to Madrid." Since then, a ship of Illescas (Toleado) is the headquarters of the company. There work a dozen employees assembling the different components, although it is planned to increase the number of workers to continue production.How do they deal with criticism, some of which point to the product of thymus, of smoke? It is a complicated product. There is a history of scams and it is normal for people to be suspicious even if you explain it to them. And sometimes they give more confidence to an external person. You try to defend yourself, but you may not have arguments if the console is not ready. At the moment, the product has already gone out in several fairs, people have been able to try it. Some criticisms, like we had put a tablet inside, have already calmed down. In addition, AMD has tweeted us, supporting the project, so it is difficult to accuse us of this being all smoke. But, well, until people do not have the console in their hands, we will remain an unknown. How do they explain to the backers so much delay? We make private updates in which we are explaining all the progress, what happens, why delays From the perspective of the 'backers' it is difficult; They have a date and expect to receive the product on that date. But four years of development doesn't seem like much. In fact, that three kids who made video games started with a startup to make a hardware from scratch, a console that nobody has made, not even the big companies that go to the latest in technology, because four years seem to me little, seen in perspective.Why no tech giant has chosen to investigate the path of portable consoles for PC games? Large companies usually take longer to see things and react. We saw with time that AMD was working on this technology and in the end it has come to create this chip, capable of putting an x86 architecture with that power and in that format. The development has been very complicated. Now we are at the technological moment when it is possible and realistic to do so. We have been pioneers and sure that later on there will be large companies interested. Do you still think you have something revolutionary for the 'gamer' ecosystem? Yes. Obviously, a few years ago it would have been something more revolutionary yet, but we are in a phase where there is still no competition and such a product is very interesting. As a 'gamer' and a Steam and PC user, I find it amazing to play any game I have on my profile anywhere.
Since its inception, the Smach Z has toured international events such as E3, Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, Embedded World, Gamelab or Madrid Games Week . In those appointments, the public saw up to five versions of the console, from the first models to the alpha and beta versions in different states. Also in the contests there were setbacks that did not help the image of the product. The most popular case occurred in Tokyo when the console screen did not turn on. The problem was a component of a Japanese manufacturer, but the truth is that the incident was not good for the image of the project.
It seems that the problems have been left behind. The pocket PC is about to become a reality with the imminent delivery of the first 2,500 units reserved by the sponsors. the truth hour has arrived. It will be the users themselves who, as soon as they receive and test the potential of the device, determine what future awaits this innovation of Spanish origin in the videogames sector.
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