Independent manufacturers can find it difficult enough to get their products to market without adding unusual construction techniques into the mix — just ask ADzero about the struggles they've had with their bamboo smartphone. But Orée, a hardware startup based in the south of France, is a little further along the line.
The company has been operating a pop-up store in Tokyo this week to promote its first product, the €150 ($193) Orée Board. It's a wireless, wooden keyboard carved from a single block of walnut or maple with customizable laser etchings. By demonstrating the product in a public setting, Orée hopes to sell customers on its unique properties.
"We sell directly online in most places," says Orée's Yasunobu Takata, "but we are a hardware manufacturer, and especially for this kind of product, people really would like to see it and touch it and try out how it really feels." Beyond that, customers are able to select the specific wood grain of their keyboard, and choose how they want it engraved; options include OS key layout, a choice of fonts, and decorative illustrations.
"Apple's design is really great and cool, but it's not really warm."
The keyboard itself is solidly built, surprisingly light, and feels great to type on for anyone used to something like Apple's typical chiclet-style setup — key layout, spacing, and throw are all reminiscent of what you'd find on a MacBook. But Takata is quick to distance the Orée Board from Apple's own products.
"Apple's design is really great and cool, but it's cool," he says. "It's not really warm. We would like to make objects that carry empathy and warmth as we use them." Gesturing to his own personal Orée Board, Takata continues: "I have been using this piece for the past four months, and as I use it I realise that this keyboard actually grows. The color changes as I use it because of the oil from my fingers, but this doesn't really look dirty — it really grows."
Orée plans to launch "a couple more" products around September; the company wouldn't be drawn on what those might be, but Takata says it "won't be a mouse," and designer Franck Fontana told me he wants to work with "raw materials, like leather or stone." While the Tokyo workshop will close this Sunday, Orée hopes to return in October, along with similar pop-up projects in New York, Berlin, and Paris this year.
- The pop-up workshop is located in Tokyo's swish Ginza shopping district, just a few blocks away from both the first Apple Store and the first Starbucks in Japan.
- "This is not made out of unnatural materials like plastic or metal — it's a living thing," says Takata. "It's not static, it moves, it grows."
- Wood grain differs significantly from keyboard to keyboard, but customers are unable to select their own block online. Running a physical retail operation allows people to make a more personal choice.
- Customers can choose between three different Roman and Japanese fonts.
- Orée offers a choice of etched illustrations by an artist based in Barcelona.
- "In one sense, we are quite the opposite of Apple." says Takata. "In Apple's keyboard, everything must be identical. The keyboard that you have must be exactly the same as mine. In our case, every single piece is different. Even though I can't say this key is exactly the same as this one, this gives uniqueness."
- Orée has eight employees at present — six in France, where the workshop is located, along with one in Spain and one in Japan.
- The Orée Board can be laser-etched with either Windows or Mac/iOS key layouts.
- Orée offers a €30 ($38) leather pouch that also folds into a stand.
- The pouch is a little confusing to use, but once you remember how to fold it correctly, the result is compact and minimalist.
- Orée rented this etching machine from a Japanese company to use throughout the week.
- Designer Franck Fontana poses with an Orée Board.