Get ready, iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) investors and fans, because everybody's favorite home-robot specialist is about to give us something new.
This morning, iRobot took to Twitter with the following teaser:
For anyone familiar with iRobot's products, that's clearly a shiny new button on one of its home robots, which includes not only its signature Roomba vacuums, but also other innovative bots meant to mop and sweep floors, empty gutters, and leave swimming pools sparkling.
Tomorrow, however, you can bet iRobot's announcement will revolve around unveiling the latest and greatest version of the Roomba.
How can I be so sure?
Here's what we know
Well, I suppose it helps to consider that Roomba represents the vast majority of sales in iRobot's fast-growing floor-care line, shipments for which most recently grew an impressive 27% over last year. What's more, Home Robot revenue is expected to make up around 90% of iRobot's overall sales this year.
And while many investors were focused on iRobot's post-earnings drop a few weeks ago -- even though it performed exactly as management had promised -- iRobot also gave investors a heads-up on the new product launch during its subsequent Oct. 24 quarterly conference call. Specifically, only a few minutes into the call, iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle led by stating, "We saw strong growth in our Home Robot business, and are excited to announce a major new Roomba robot for the fourth quarter."
In case that leaves too much to the imagination, he later elaborated:
In Q4, we will launch our next generation of Roomba. In keeping with our tiered launch strategy, the new product will be sold exclusively on our website through year-end. In Q1 of 2014, consistent with our other new product introductions, we will broaden distribution through a limited number of domestic retailers and international channels. No additional details regarding this product will be available until its launch later this quarter.
Fair enough; I suppose they don't want to totally ruin the surprise. And now we at least know "later" means tomorrow, Nov. 12.
But while iRobot's Roomba has undoubtedly improved over the 11 years since its launch, those improvements have largely consisted of small incremental steps leading to better filters, new scheduling systems, longer battery life, and smarter navigation capabilities.
All of these make sense and fall in line with Angle's consistent stance for gradually growing public acceptance of home robots' increasing utility, but with lower-cost alternatives from companies like China-based Dirt Devil hitting the market, that hardly appeases calls for iRobot to do something more drastic to maintain its edge.
Here's what I'd love to see
How, then, could iRobot manage to wow consumers with tomorrow's "major" announcement?
First -- and let me be clear I'm not holding my breath for this one -- I'd love to see a Roomba that could navigate my stairs. After all, that'd be the cleaning holy grail for homeowners hoping to completely ditch all other vacuums.
Besides, several of iRobot's military offerings can already climb up and down stairs, and we know they can be built to survive big falls considering iRobot's "First Look" bots are meant to be thrown through windows for reconnaissance purposes. However, implementing such a stair-climbing cleaning solution for millions upon millions of unique homes around the world would be an entirely different beast for iRobot to tackle.
Second, and much more probable, I think iRobot could show off the fruits of the treasure trove of patents it acquired with its purchase of Evolution Robotics late last year. That acquisition has already resulted in the newly branded Braava line of floor-sweeping and mopping robots, but Evolution Robotics also held a significant amount of intellectual property related to SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) technology.
Specifically, this could enable iRobot to implement low-cost cameras in its robots to reduce their reliance on physical bumpers and infrared sensors to navigate our homes. Whether a camera-sporting vacuum would make homeowners uncomfortable is an entirely different question, but it would undoubtedly improve Roombas' ability to effectively clean each room, escape tight spots, and traverse ever-changing landscapes of obstacles.
Finally, I'd like to see iRobot give users the ability to control, schedule, and monitor the new Roomba from their smartphones. Fun? You betcha. Gimmicky? Maybe. But so is the proprietary "wireless command center" that comes with the current Roomba 790 model.
In any case, we'll see what iRobot says tomorrow. Whatever it is, though, and remembering how quickly iRobot is growing around the world as it stands, I think it'll only serve to further solidify its place at the head of the home robot market.