REPORT

What happened to will.i.am’s foto.sosho?

By James Cook

Former member of the Black Eyed Peas will.i.am has done an excellent job of reinventing himself as a tech industry titan. Since going solo he has graced the cover of WIRED UK, designed his own car (and had it “stolen” in a publicity stunt), become a technology evangelist, blogged about technology education and launched his own gadget company: i.am+.

The i.am+™ foto.sosho™ by will.i.am™ is, apparently, “the world’s first digital camera accessory and app combination”. It’s a $415 plastic case that your iPhone sits in. You hang it around your neck and it has a camera attached so that you can take photos. A light-up plastic keyboard slides out the bottom. But please, let will.i.am explain it in his own words.

The foto.sosho launched to much press attention in December 2012. A large, star-studded global launch party was held in London with will.i.am foto.soshoing all over the place with his giant plastic necklace. It was announced that London department store Selfridges would be the UK’s exclusive retailer for the device.

Keen to try out the foto.sosho for myself, I tried to buy one. Here’s the problem: you can’t. At all.

It’s not in stores

The page where the foto.sosho used to be on the Selfridges website is now blank.

The page where the foto.sosho used to be on the Selfridges website is now blank.

Trying to buy the foto.sosho on the Selfridges site results in blank pages or redirects. I called their online help desk to ask why this was happening.

Maybe they’re sold out, yeah. We might get some in near Christmas maybe.

The technology counter at Selfridges should be the one place in the world that knows more about the foto.sosho than anyone else. After all, it’s the exclusive UK retailer for this groundbreaking product, so what could they tell me about it?

I’ve never heard of it. We definitely haven’t received it.

I also called the original Selfridges PR contact who managed the product launch. I asked her whether they could tell us anything about the foto.sosho. Instead of confusion, she responded with an exasperated “ah.”

We don’t stock that. I think we sold some earlier this year.

According to an interview with will.i.am at Macworld 2013, only 2,000 foto.soshos were made available for purchase. However, will.i.am remained upbeat, claiming that sales went “fairly well”.

We weren’t looking for a home run. The home run was getting it into stores. And so by that, we did fantastic.

Will.i.am may have succeeded in getting his product into a store, but there’s no evidence that anyone ordered any more units. We tried to talk to will.am’s people to see what his plans for the device are.

It’s not a fashion item

This Forbes interview with will.i.am was particularly helpful in demonstrating what the foto.sosho actually is.

In case you missed that, here’s will.i.am on people in tech.

They don’t buy Louis Vuitton, Gucci and all these other things, so therefore, who cares what they say?

The inspirational slogan of will.i.am's fashion line i.am Clothing

The inspirational slogan of will.i.am’s fashion line i.am Clothing

Finally I had a lead: the foto.sosho is a fashion item. So I called up the head office of will.i.am’s fashion label, i.am Clothing, in Canada. After being transferred through various different companies, I finally spoke to someone who helped will.i.am manage his fashion range; I asked her what the current status of the foto.sosho is.

I’m sorry, what? Can you repeat that? ‘Photo social’?! Oh, a camera case? There is no camera case associated with this company.

After will.i.am’s fashion label hung up on me, I began to wonder why the foto.sosho isn’t available anywhere.

His co-founder is notorious

Wired-uk-08-2013

The August 2013 issue of WIRED UK magazine has become infamous in some circles for its cringeworthy cover star. Photographed for the cover wearing a tie made out of the Financial Times, will.i.am revealed in the issue some of his business secrets. For example, he has a “team of experts” who help him make his ideas a reality. Presumably he isn’t including the co-founder of i.am+, Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan, in that team of experts.

Rathakrishnan is the notorious entrepreneur who was publicly sued for fraud by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. Rathakrishnan’s company, the Singapore-based development studio Fusion Garage, worked with the TechCrunch team in 2008 to try and build an affordable Linux tablet. On November 17, 2009, Rathakrishnan emailed TechCrunch “out of the blue” to inform them that Fusion Garage would now be selling the product alone. The CrunchPad tablet was renamed the JooJoo. After a series of long delays, it went up for sale. In litigation it emerged that only 90 people pre-ordered the device. Fusion Garage went bankrupt in 2012, owing creditors over $40 million.

will.i.am with his co-founder Chandra Rathakrishnan at the foto.sosho global launch party.

will.i.am with his co-founder Chandra Rathakrishnan at the official unveiling of the foto.sosho.

The app is a ghost town

In order to use the foto.sosho camera attachment, you need to send the photos to your phone using the foto.sosho app. Built with pixellated stock navigation elements and outdated buttons, the app resembles a high school student’s end of year project. The only people posting photographs on the foto.sosho app are misguided will.i.am fans, sharing their filtered snaps into nothingness.

will.i.am's ugly photo-sharing app is devoid of any life.

will.i.am’s ugly photo-sharing app is devoid of any life.

I kept trying to talk to someone involved with the foto.sosho, but nobody wanted to discuss it. Calls and emails to will.i.am’s management company, his accountants, his manager, his co-founder, his co-founder’s company, will.i.am’s charity and even the team of evangelists for the foto.sosho have gone unanswered. Nobody wants to talk about the foto.sosho.

I don’t doubt for a second that will.i.am is sincere about trying to change the tech world for the better. He’s certainly passionate about what he does; it’s just that the end result is usually shocking.

The cover of the will.i.am WIRED issue reads “If will.i.am can build a hardware business, what can you do?” Well, here’s the thing, will.i.am hasn’t built a hardware business. By his own admission, the funding for the foto.sosho has come from his own sizeable fortune. All will.i.am has done is get a failed hardware entrepreneur to create a test run of ugly plastic phone cases, and then will.i.am used his clout to convince Selfridges to stick some of them in one of their stores for a bit.

So the answer to the question “If will.i.am can build a hardware business, what can you do?” is “better”.