Forgive me, late to the party. Haven't read the whole thread yet (some may already have pointed out what I am going to point out). I just wanted to chime in on this post and the ideas/options suggested. Having thought the very same thing regarding Axoloti. These ideas may sound feasible and perhaps even financially possible. There are still some issues regarding unpopulation/population and addition of breakout boards that some people may forget.
First, and I seem to recall that Johannes even pointed this out. Axoloti is possible to use right out of its box, customer doesn't need to source and assemble components to be able to even get any sound out of it at the start. However care has been taken to make sure that there is a balance of features, boardsize, price and user-friendliness. Decisions made wrong in that = scares potential customers away (not good in the startup phase).
As soon as there is something added. Regardless of it being SW or HW. You'll get an exponential growing multiplication factor of potential (unwanted) support case/forum post possibly because of each and any addition.
As an former employee (Elektron/production department) with total transparency into support issues/cases. I've seen this at every Elektron release (SW/HW). You wouldn't believe the level of competence revealed in support cases. Some customers are extremely technical geeks, some are... erhm... not. Everyone wants to make music/sound/whatever but somehow failed for whatever reason, hence asking for support. And each support case is someones work to address. Consumes time like a black hole consumes... well... everything. Sometimes some support cases reveals underlying OS bugs that are so sneaky that they probably wouldn't have been found if it weren't for that customers particular case. Those cases could even halt production/development. And those were 'closed' products.
Going the route of the Axoloti board has some of the same potential pitfalls. Aside of it being a product, with regulations that any/every manufacturer must follow (warranty, safety etc). Having an 'open' product that customers can (and are encouraged to) modify in some (if not all) aspects. Is a wormhole, a warphole and a black hole in unity. However, it is also a bit of touching singularity when it comes too support and keeping such a product stable.
Providing breakout boards opens up an other dimension of support/forum cases regarding errors, interferencies and instabilities with each other and/or the main board. When customers are unable to solve the issue themselves they naturally reach out to whereever they can. Hence support cases, or worse (if you are a manufacturer): warranty issues. Splitting up a system into parts, that are (in the customers eyes) still supposed to function as good as any single entity. Is like asking for problems to add (beside those already existing).
Providing a modular system of parts as such often leads to either of two ways:
- Very small niche = high customer price (very small customer base), low volume sales. Think modular synths (someone has done the heavy lifting and thought things out).
- Very wide generic niche = potential low customer price. High volume sales. Think generic electronics (embedded boards etc). You are supposed/expected to do the heavy lifting but no one else other than yourself knows what it is EXACTLY that YOU want (and sometimes not even you knows it yet).
Unless being rich wanting to spend money with no returns expected. There are not many (if any) manufacturers trying to run their business as number 2 (high volume/low price) while providing number 1 (small niche/modular).
By trying to convert number 1 into number 2. One would need to start with as high volume as possible of each/every part (lower price for manufacturer). But to be 'sure' that anyone/everyone will purchase (not just because of the price), it has to appeal to as many as possible (generic product). It is a catch 22.
Releasing the Axoloti was very bold of Johannes since it is both SW and HW. Could he have done things differently. Probably. But no matter of what he had done differently (or not). There would have been something else that customers asked/wishing for. Again: catch 22.