Attempts at clever quips by an Espressif representative regarding an obvious fundamental problem with Espressif products do not warm the cockles of my heart. No. They do not. Instead, they make my blood run cold.
Espressif seems like a typical tech company that has created some remarkably innovative and popular products yet, unbeknownst to its key investors, is rapidly heading towards insolvency. Typically, arguing against spectacular success is as futile as "yelling into a hurricane." But I will attempt that very thing.
I would much rather see the ESP32 remain as is, with no new significant features added for say six to twelve months, and instead see the ESP32 become a rock solid platform. Apparently the chances of that are currently extremely remote.
Engineers and engineering clearly dominate the Espressif corporate culture. To many this seems cool, fun and most importantly "The Right Way". After all Espressif is a classic disruptor which is following the path laid out in a pseudo-holy tome reverently adhered to by its worshippers which is known as the, "Innovator's Dilemma." Right? Therefore, what's not to like? Although he coined the currently popular phrase, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen did not invent the concept of disruptive innovation. It is not a new concept at all.
As most Westerners and followers of Abrahamic faiths around the world know, David famously slew Goliath. In part he did so by implementing an existing technology, a sling, in an innovative manner. But David was able to not merely transform (that is, to be a disruptor) he became the King David we know today because he actually successfully consolidated his power and then transferred that power to his son Solomon.
Moving from transformation to consolidation might seem natural and easy but in fact typically it is neither. Moses was the great law giver who brought the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt and into the desert but it was his student Joshua who was tasked with leading the Jewish people out of the desert and into the land of Israel (the Promised Land). Moses was a transformative leader whereas Joshua was a consolidating leader. Both were necessary, but neither was properly suited to perform the task of the other.
Espressif's key investors are perched atop a thorny dilemma which is common for successful startup companies: the transformative CEO who "made the company what it is" is usually the wrong person to "make the company what it could be." If you read the headlines of tech websites and blogs carefully you have probably noticed that every few months a well-known tech company CEO fights angrily, vociferously, but usually unsuccessfully to keep his job.
More to the point, Espressif faces a typical yet pernicious problem which virtually all new and successful tech companies face: its merry band of innovative engineers are naturally obsessively creating new features while paying scant attention to actual user benefits for the majority of its potential customers and potential customers' customers (end users).
Espressif is a darling tech company to legions of makers/hackers right now because it has created some remarkably innovative products. And I guess Chinese companies that make toys and trinkets actually ship products with the ESP8266 and ESP32. But if Espressif does not shift its focus soon from cranking out "bright new shiny objects" to building "stuff that works reliably" it will soon be crushed by competitors.
The most important thing key Espressif investors can do right now is to replace the current Espressif CEO with a CEO who knows how to properly satisfy customers with benefits, instead of one who is myopically focused on churning out unreliable features at breakneck speed.
What is my stake in this discussion? I want to develop a commercial product. I have used PIC chips (microcontrollers made by Microchip) before. They were very reliable. Very reliable. But compared to the ESP32 PIC chips and other similarly mature microcontrollers are remarkably limited, expensive, and difficult to program.
Yet the idea of shipping a product to customers that contains the ESP32 actually keeps me up at night because despite its remarkable potential value, I shudder at the thought of selling customers a product that seems to work at first, but gradually is shown to be unreliable.
See, I have been involved in a product recall before that was the direct result of embracing a new wireless hardware platform that seemed to work properly but turned out to be unreliable. The headaches, hassles, financial costs, and loss of goodwill from customers was something I remember vividly.
The ESP8266 was a little too limited. Therefore, creating the ESP32 therefore made sense. But the ESP32 is remarkably powerful. It will suffice for myriad IoT devices for many years to come. Espressif as a company should take a break for, say six to twelve months, from adding features to the ESP32. Instead of adding new features, making the ESP32 rock solid should be the number one priority for Espressif's engineering team right now.
Naturally, the innovative engineers at Espressif (including Espressif's current CEO) will resist this. Engineers—particularly clever ones who build innovative products—typically love development but loathe maintenance.
That is why Espressif needs a new CEO.