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Introducing the $19 Photon

Dearest Spark friends,

Our new hardware is here! In case you're not feeling the length of this post, here's the short version:

  • Today we're launching our new development kit, the Photon! It's the spiritual sequel to the Spark Core (backwards compatible), and it's faster, better, and cheaper. You can pre-order it now for $19, and we're targeting March 2015 for delivery.
  • We're also selling our own Wi-Fi modules - the P0 and P1 - for $10 and $12 respectively, in low volumes (10 units). These modules come with free cloud service, so they'll do everything the Photon does, and they'll come pre-programmed with our firmware. We're doing this to help you transition from a prototype to a manufacturable product.
  • We've got accessories from our friends at IDEO, Adafruit, Seeed Studio, and Fritzing! They love us, and we love them.
  • We've also launched Spark Dev, our professional IDE built on Github's open source Atom project. Available today!

Pre-order a Photon for $19

Now for the long version:

A year ago we began shipping Spark Cores to our Kickstarter backers and our community. We've now shipped tens of thousands of Cores, and our platform has grown significantly. We built web development tools for hardware; we built a cloud back-end and open sourced it; we've iterated on our firmware, and have accepted dozens of pull requests from the community to improve our software.

Our community of developers, engineers, designers, students, and artists has grown to more than 20,000. Our team has grown to more than 20 people, including a number of our top community members, and spans the world, from our headquarters in San Francisco and office in Minneapolis to Norway, Poland and Shenzhen.

We've learned a ton, and we've had the opportunity to build that knowledge and the amazing feedback we've received over the last year into a new product, which we're launching today. Please welcome to the Spark family our newest addition: the Photon!

The Photon: $19 of betterness

The Spark Core was a great beginning for us, and was the first affordable and widely available open source Wi-Fi solution on the market. But technology moves quickly, and our reach as a company has grown; we now have access to chips and tech that wasn't previously available to us. We're excited to bring that new tech to you in the form of the spiritual sequel to the Spark Core: the Photon, and its brain, the P0.

If you take a look around, you'll find that all of the best connected products on the market are built with the same chipset: Broadcom's BCM43362. This chip powers the Nest Protect, LIFX, and more. Broadcom's chips are in most of the Wi-Fi routers on the market as well, which means they can offer the best router compatibility, the most experience, and the most stable solution on the market.

The Photon adapts the architecture we built around the CC3000 to our new Wi-Fi module, which we call the P0. The P0 pairs Broadcom's BCM43362 Wi-Fi chip with an STM32F205 microcontroller. Besides being a major step forward in reliability, the Photon is more powerful than the Core; we've ramped up from 72Mhz to 120Mhz, from 128KB of flash to 1MB of flash, and from 20KB of RAM to 128KB of RAM. And it's also a good deal cheaper; you can now pre-order a Photon for $19.

The Photon is nearly 100% backwards compatible with the Spark Core, as well as having additional capabilities such as a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) peripheral and an exposed wake-up pin for low power modes. Plus the software that you've written for the Spark Core should work seamlessly with the Photon, although we'll need your help testing our firmware to get as close as possible to 100% compatibility. Furthermore, we're rebuilding our firmware upon a Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) so that we can support a variety of hardware platforms in the future.

The P0: our $10 Wi-Fi module, with free cloud service

For many of you the Core and the Photon are not simply for building projects. If you want to scale, you need something that will help you transition from prototype to production, and we designed the Photon with that journey in mind.

When you're ready to build your Photon-based product at scale, you can transition from the Photon to the P0. The P0 is the same module that powers the Photon; it comes pre-loaded with our firmware, is affordable in small volumes ($10 each for 10 units), and can be purchased in 500-unit reels for manufacturing. Supply the P0 with a regulated 3.3V power source, add a button and an RGB LED, and connect an antenna and a half dozen small passive components, and you're ready to go.

For those who want nothing to do with antennas or RF or any of that nonsense, we'll also be selling the P1, a larger version of the P0 that includes both a u.FL connector and an antenna on the board (as well as additional external flash), for $12 each.

If you're interested in purchasing larger volumes, please contact us.

Accessories from our friends at IDEO, Adafruit, Seeed Studio, and Fritzing

The Photon is at its best when it teams up with others, so we called on a few friends to make sure it doesn't get lonely.

We've invited along some of the top names in prototyping and development tools. Check this out:

  • Adafruit Spark NeoPixel Ring Kit: This NeoPixel ring adds 24 individually addressable (and gorgeous!) LEDs to your Photon or Core. Upload the Neopixel library code and get started!
  • Grove Starter Kit for Spark Photon from Seeed Studio: An easy to use plug-and-play kit for the Photon - one base shield lets you connect a variety of included modules
  • Fritzing Internet of Things Kit: The ultimate IoT entry point for makers and students with easy to follow example projects themed around the "Smart Home"
  • Motion Shield in collaboration with IDEO: This intelligent stackable stepper-motor shield (design and engineering by IDEO) will add internet controlled motion to all of your projects - whether race car or robotic arm.

We're also revamping all of our own shields; while any Spark Core shield will work with the Photon, they'll all get a bit better. A couple are going through some major changes:

  • Programmer Shield: A complete re-design of the JTAG Shield, incorporating an FTDI programmer chip to eliminate the need for a separate programmer
  • Power Shield: Complete re-design of the Battery Shield, no longer shaped like a mustache, and designed for true low-power performance. We'll also ship these for free to anyone who was dissatisfied with our previous mustache-shaped Battery Shield. Thanks for your patience!

Spark Dev: a professional IDE built on Github's Atom

Our web IDE gave us the ability to provide an Arduino-like development experience in a web browser. When you start to grow beyond simple projects, however, the limitations of a simple web-based tool start to become more evident. For a little while now our community's been asking for more.

Introducing Spark Dev!

A couple of months back, one of our community members, @suda, started building a Spark plug-in for Github's new open source Atom project. We loved his work so much that we hired him onto the Spark team to continue his development, which has grown into a brand new open source IDE for Mac and Windows: Spark Dev!

At first glance, Spark Dev looks and feels much like our web IDE. In fact it has many of the same capabilities; you can compile and deploy firmware over the air, just like the web IDE. However, it can also do a lot more; besides pulling in a lot of the features of our command line tool, the Spark CLI, Spark Dev is extensible. You can install any existing package for Atom, or create your own packages using JavaScript and Coffeescript. We've got our own additional features in mind, but we can't wait to see yours!

Order a Photon today!

To pre-order your Photons, modules, and accessories, visit our new store:

Visit the Spark Store

Oh yeah, we should mention that we're offering free shipping on our first 1,000 domestic orders.

As always, we'd love to hear from you over on our community site! Your support and feedback are always appreciated.

Much love,

Zach and the Spark team