Such a shift in thinking was driven by Kano's community. The team was looking at "Kano World," a hub where users can share their code, for interesting user-created projects. Over time, they noticed that the best ones fell into one of three categories: photography, music and data. One family in Oklahoma, for instance, had hooked up their Kano to a monitor and a camera. With little guidance, they had written a custom script to capture flowers slowly blooming in their garden. Elsewhere, a musician in New York was using his Kano to power a visualizer. It would strobe and pulse in time with the music, thrilling crowds at his local concerts.
"Data" is a little trickier to describe. Klein points to the stripped-back version of Minecraft that comes bundled with each Kano. It's a modified version with distinct challenges that require code-like commands to progress. "People would use that and hook it up to an API so that their Minecraft counter would run forward depending on the time of day," Klein explains. "Simple stuff, but cool." Kano, the company realized, had removed an important barrier associated with setting up the Raspberry Pi. People were now encouraged to go further, setting up projects that combined new hardware and code. "What we're doing with these new kits is blowing that out," Klein adds.
The new approach might surprise some people. Do you really need these kits to learn how to code? Can't children just learn with their laptop and a stable internet connection? After all, so many jobs are about building apps and businesses on the web. It's a narrow-minded approach, but one that does hold merit: You can learn an awful lot using sites such as Codecademy. Klein thinks a little differently, however. The learn-to-code movement, he says, isn't about turning everyone into the next Mark Zuckerberg or Sundar Pichai.
"It's more to do with the ability of your everyday person to understand and manipulate data," he says, "than it does necessarily moving a cat across a screen, or even making a personal web page -- because they're so easy to do. A lot of it is about how an individual, a human being, can make connections between data, the physical world and a problem that they have, an itch they want to scratch, something they want to express. It's not necessarily about making Clash of Clans millionaires anymore."
"The more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people."
Kano hopes that the kits will appeal to a broader range of people -- not just children but adults too. Anyone who's curious about the objects they use every day. "Learning this new way of thinking is hard," Klein says. "I still find it hard. I didn't start when I was nine, and I kinda wish I had. It really is a new way of thinking, and the more you can relate it to our most instinctive mode of thinking, which is physical, the more that it makes sense to people."
A different path
The company's direction could have been quite different. At one point, Kano considered doubling down on its computer kit. The original Kickstarter had been a huge success, after all, and the community had shown interest in the screen add-on too. Why not go further? A battery pack, an antenna, a series of speakers -- Kano could explain each of them in turn and build out people's understanding of the modern PC. But Klein ultimately decided against it, sensing that these new products "wouldn't really be as in the spirit of the company." I tend to agree. The new camera, speaker and pixel kits feel more ambitious and educational. The potential to experiment and learn new skills is far higher.
Inside Kano HQ, Klein starts to show me the build process for the light board. As he flicks out the manual and selects the appropriate parts, I'm struck by how clean and polished everything looks. The kits are colorful and approachable, while maintaining a do-it-yourself, handmade feel. Kano's goal is to simplify the complexity associated with electronics, but if the parts are too well packaged -- cloaked in too much soft, rounded plastic -- it doesn't feel like you're making something, well, real.
Klein says it's a balance. The team thinks carefully about how the parts should come together. Levers give way to tiny sliding mechanisms. The lenses are attached with magnets, rather than cumbersome screws. Instead of a normal printed circuit board (PCB), raw and "grinning" with "gnarled teeth," it's refined, with enough cues to suggest what's inside. I pick up the tilt sensor, a thumb-size piece of plastic with a circular top. A shallow trench houses a ball bearing that freely spins around. "That aesthetic you're describing reflects the main point, in a sense, of the company," Klein muses. "Which is, in a word, to resolve the Jobs-Woz crisis. To prove that it's possible to have a modular, DIY creative system that the user controls, but that's also really simple and human and tells a good story."