iCache Geode's spectacular crash and burn

iCache Geode's spectacular crash and burn

Summary: This promising digital wallet 'Appcessory' raised $350,000 on Kickstarter and $4 million in other investments only to disappear entirely late last year. Here's what happened.

TOPICS: Apple, iPhone

The Geode Kickstarter project billed itself as the first secure, digital wallet for the iPhone 4 or 4S. I first wrote about it in March 2012, and later reviewed it in July 2012 (verdict: Cool, but half baked). What made Geode different from software-only solutions (like Passbook and CardStar) was its combination of software, hardware, and security.

iCache Geode's spectacular crash and burn - Jason O'Grady

Geode consists of an iPhone 4/4S case with a programmable GeoCard, an E Ink barcode screen that can emulate the bar code or mag stripe on any card, and a biometric fingerprint scanner to keep your data secure.

I had good luck with the E Ink display (it scanned at every retailer I tested it with), but the GeoCard failed due to an issue with the adhesive that holds its metallic chip. My card was replaced with a working unit in relatively short order. Then I kind of forgot about it.

I got an email recently that the Geode website was down and that its last tweet was on October 16, 2012, so I decided to look into it. The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, tracked down former iCache CEO Jon Ramaci — and got some answers.

It turns out that manufacturing problems gave way to a pair of lawsuits (one involving a former iCache consultant and the other a former employee), then in September 2012, Apple released the iPhone 5 with a new form factor (that didn't fit in the Geode case), a new kind of connector and Passbook, an app that offered affinity card storage, like Geode did. And things seemed to spiral downward from there.

The Post and Courier's Brendan Kearney interviewed Ramaci and he revealed that he and many of his top deputies had left the company in November 2012 amid mounting customer dissatisfaction. Many backers left acerbic comments on the company's Kickstarter page, lacking anywhere else to vent their frustrations.

According to Kearney, Ramaci, Ross, and several other members of the original iCache team left in November 2012. Although Ramaci denied that he was fired, he refused to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his departure, saying only that after six years, "it was time".

The iCache board of directors and advisers eventually shrunk to one person each, and in March 2013, the corporate website went offline altogether. Ramaci claimed that the iCache board asked him step down as CEO to focus on the iPhone 5 product while Erik Ross, iCache’s chief strategy officer, was installed as the new CEO.

"I felt my deliverable was to get the product to the next phase, and we had accomplished quite a great deal in a short amount of time and a very short budget as far as development of the card and the product itself." — former iCache CEO Jon Ramaci

In the article in The Post and Courier Ramaci claimed that 90 percent of the Kickstarter backers got their Geodes, and that the remaining 10 percent opted for the iPhone 5 version. I received both my original Geode and a replacement GeoCard with a handwritten letter.

Although Ramaci tried to remain optimistic about iCache in the article, the company has all but vanished. Chairman Richard Scott did not respond to Kearney's requests for an interview, and former board member Arthur Pingolt Jr. declined to comment on iCache.

Clearly, Geode wasn't a total ruse; the company manufactured and shipped (at least to me) a working, viable, and exciting product. What happened to iCache is more likely a lesson in the hazards of tying your business model to a company with billions of dollars, a world-class global supply chain, and a rigorous 12-month product life cycle. Just as Geode began shipping, Apple pivoted (with the iPhone 5), and it was time to start over again.

Hardware manufacturing at any kind of scale is a difficult proposition, but trying to keep pace with a company with over $150 billion in annual revenue and an assembly line of new products that never seems to stop is pretty close to impossible.

A Facebook group, Robbed by iCache, tracks stories of disgruntled backers and former customers, and this New York Times article talks about the hazards of backing Kickstarter projects.

Topics: Apple, iPhone

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  • I almost backed this...

    I'm actually from Charleston, SC and some good friends of mine at a killer media agency in town did the branding for the Geode. Their updates piqued my interest and I ALMOST bought one. I'm a big fan of Kickstarter despite the possible ramifications when projects go south. The one thing that stopped me from backing this (and you mentioned it in your article) is the life cycle of devices being roughly 12 months. I RARELY keep a phone for the full two years. I usually upgrade as soon as I'm able, unless there's nothing of interest out there. I get rather bored with technology and this Geode was destined to fail from the start because it only works for two phones.

    And Apple is notorious for phasing out phones by denying them iOS updates, eventually rendering a significant number of your favorite apps useless (my father-in-law experienced this recently with his original iPad, which he replaced with a Mini).

    These guys built a device on a current phone. What they should have done is sold a device for a FUTURE phone. Like the iPhone 5. Projects on Kickstarter usually have such a long turnaround that if I were backing a phone accessory, it would have to be future-proof or I'd at least want the option of a reward that could be redeemed for the NEXT phone.
    • "Destined to fail"?

      I'd hardly think that it would be "destined to fail" because it "only" works on 2 of the highest selling phones of their respective launch years.

      I also nearly backed the device. I didn't - because I figured I may get lots of weird looks from retailers as I created a card on the fly.

      A great idea, but yesterday's technology when all the buzz at the time was about NFC - another reason I didn't buy.
  • this makes it even more clear that 'phones are spearheading...

    ... the digitisation of everything.

    Any idea that depends upon custom hardware is going to have an evolutionary disadvantage over solutions that can be implemented entirely in software - even if this means that the human using the software has to do a little more.

    After all, most of us now carry two powerful computing devices with us everywhere we go, as opposed to the one we were born with. Both of these can be re-programmed more-or-less on the fly.