The sockITz story
The idea of adding USB ports to a regular powerpoint was originally thought up by a couple of friends whilst sitting on a plane back in 2008 en-route to yet another hotel. After travelling extensive for work in the Audio Visual event industry the act of finding somewhere to charge your phone and other devices every night at hotels around the country, became most frustrating. In most cases you are required to unplug a clock radio or lamp, climb under a table or move furniture or even charge in the bathroom, there had to be a better way!
We started researching and found that a new USB charging standard had been signed by all the major phone manufactures and was due to start on the 1st of January 2012. This was an important milestone and this new standard meant that all manner of usb charging devices would start to appear on the market not only phones but any small portable battery operated device. USB lights, fans, gps navigators, media players and even shavers have appeared on the market to take advantage of this universal power delivery method.
The reason this new standard was initiated was to reduce the number of wall chargers that were thrown away into land fill each year. Every year 51,000 tonnes of these phone chargers were thrown away due to new phones with different charging needs and adapters.
So we soon realised we needed to create a universal USB charger that could easily be retrofitted into every hotel and house in the country that would allow for family’s and hotel guests to charge any manner of device this new standard would create without losing the regular appliance 240 AC ports. It made sense that phone manufacture’s would shorty no longer give you a phone charger with your shiny new phone as they expect you to have one already. (NB. This proved true with HTC being the first manufacture to do this. )
Now since this new standard was born to reduce land fill and greenhouse emissions we had to follow suit and make a product that was also energy efficient.
So the first step was too research Australian safety standards and since putting a USB charger on a power point had never been done before we had go over every last technical detail in the standards. The only iffy clause was that a communication port couldn’t be combined with a power socket. Now as the charger module doesn’t communicate with any external network, this should be ok. So we started ringing around labs to verify this. They all came up with the same conclusion it was more for TV antenna points etc. So buoyed with this news, the next stage was finding a factory to build our new product.
After scouring the web for suitable factories we were lucky enough to come across a factory that made wall chargers and power points. Bingo! All we had to do was combine the two and Bob’s your uncle.
The factory was very good and told us it would take about six months to get it into production. So about a month after the factory started making 3d models from our designs and a handmade sample was delivered, we decided to gauge the public’s reaction to this new product and opened up a website and tell everyone about it. All this was before the crowd funding websites like kick starter were popular and we still needed to pay for plastic injection moulds, tooling and a large minimum first order. So we launched the website for pre-orders with about a 6month waiting time to get your hands on your product.
Well those of you that have been with us from the start know that the 6 months came and went with not much progress from the factory. Everything seemed to take forever to do anything in China and they also seemed to be on holidays a lot. Many late nights where had yelling at the factory manager over Skype relating to lack of progress, delays or simple mistakes or miscommunication. Then the safety testing took about 4 months as we had to make small adjustments to satisfy the Australian AS standards and we starting thinking all this is a bit much and was never going to end up a final saleable product. Add the pressure of customers that had pre-paid, asking where their product was, we started to regret doing this with no manufacturing experience.
Well we pushed through it all and 18months later after the factory started we had our first batch on its way. We had been through countless samples but we finally had a product that I was 80% happy with ( Im still not 100% happy as product design is about constant evolvement and there is always things that can be done better)
The DHL man finally came and a group of friends sat in the lounge room with Australia Post express satchels and packed and labelled thousands of orders. It took us the best part of a week to get all our pre-orders out. Now I want to take the time to acknowledge the Australian public for their support here. From the thousands of orders we took promising a 6 month wait and not being able to deliver for about 12months we only had one person that requested a refund. That’s astounding and still blows me away today. The support from customers was unbelievable. So a big shout out and thankyou to all the people who had to wait with us, we know how frustrating it is.
So that’s how the classic sockITz was born, we built a device that was a simple replacement to a regular double Australian power point that added two high power USB ports enough to charge two devices at the same time including power hungry tablet devices like iPads. We also designed it, when not charging had zero standby power. Unlike most wall chargers that are left plugged in and turned on even when not charging, our circuit design cuts the power completely to the charger as soon as the cable is removed.
So after the original hype of getting all these orders out to the customers faded, the wait on feedback began. It didn’t take very long and too our surprise was largely was positive. Being the designer I’m the most critical person on the product and as mentioned was only 80% happy with it at that stage.
Most of the customer issues reported where during installation and it not fitting in the wall brackets and customers said the back which housed the transformer was about 1mm to large in height to fit. I couldn’t understand this as I had bought every mounting bracket I could get my hands on and squeezed the form factor in too fit the smallest one, I was confident it would fit 100% of brackets as that was the whole idea it had to be a simple replacement. Well it turns out there was some old imperial based brackets and even some companies had changed the size of their brackets since we first designed the sockITz 18 months earlier. So we had to recommend a certain brand bracket that we knew fitted but I think most people just filed away the 1mm from the bracket during install and didn’t mention it to us.
So our first batch all went out and it wasn’t long till the sparky community started to tell us how illegal this was because you can’t put an antenna point on the same socket so this had to be the same thing. Every States electrical safety body contacted us after a “concerned contractor” advised them it wasn’t up to standard. Well we would be stupid to even start this venture without checking if it would pass Australia standards so we provided them all with the required documents and lab tests and they all were told to make a note of it in their systems as their phones would be running hot on this issue for a few months.
It also became apparent that not all usb cable connectors where the same length, they differed by less than a millimetre in some cases. So this made some devices not charge in the usb sockets as it was a tad too shallow to make a good connection. Due to our no standby power doors over the usb ports it meant the usb ports had to be sunken below the retractable doors. Now add this to the tolerance of how tight our usb chargers circuit board was screwed into the housing and these short usb connectors, it meant some sockets just wouldn’t charge with that cable due to being a smidge too deep. Now we had customers screaming for the product and no time to send stock back to the factory to fix the issue so we sat down and manually unscrewed every socket housing in stock and placed a thin sheet of plastic under every circuit board to raise it up half a millimetre. So that way even the short USB cables would make a good connection in the ports, this was long tedious work and seemed to take weeks as every sockITz in the first generation batch had 6 fiddley little weird shaped screws just too open the case.
Its fair to say we learnt a lot in the early years of the design and development of sockITz and I’m proud to say we are still here 6 years later selling version 2 of the classic sockITz that was designed from scratch with increased charge capacity, up from the original 2Amps or 10watts to 3.5Amps or 17.5 watts and of course we managed to squeeze the size of the back housing down so it fits in all brackets (so far) Its still not perfect but we are getting there. I’m also proud we have kept to our original plan by ensuring the product has zero standby power. Imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery and a few of the large electrical companies in Australia have now brought out their own usb powerpoint but they all seem to have forgot the idea of USB charging was to reduce landfill and be environmentally friendly. So choose local, save power and support the little guys like sockITz who had a dream an followed it.
sockITz Pty Ltd