Since 510-thread batteries first became ubiquitous in the cannabis industry more than a decade ago, they have been lauded as a reasonable standard that gave consumers the freedom to choose what products they plugged into their batteries. The 510-thread paradigm sidestepped one of the biggest problems that has dogged the consumer-electronics industry for years: technology lock-in spurred by proprietary chargers and accessories specific to brands or even products.
But 510 devices have their own limitations, many of which have been laid bare as consumer desires have shifted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, there’s a new generation of single-use devices with designs that showcase the concentrate within and keep the user experience satisfyingly simple—a priority for many after three years of stress and burnout.
When cannabis vaping was new, releasing carts compatible with the 510-thread batteries nicotine consumers already used was a natural way for manufacturers to make products more accessible and appealing. Portable, rechargeable, and equipped with variable, customizable temperature settings, 510 batteries gave consumers a great deal of control over their purchases.
But therein lies the rub. The perceived control afforded by 510-thread systems often is a tradeoff for the quality of the consumption experience and ease of use. A cannabis brand can go to great lengths to produce a high-terpene concentrate formula, for example, only for a consumer to burn off those terpenes on their battery’s highest temperature setting. Many users don’t even realize overheating their vape carts is preventing them from enjoying the effects associated with certain strains or formulas.
Then there’s the perpetual question of how to cycle between settings on different devices. Should the consumer press the single button one time or five? How long should they hold the button down as they inhale? Is the battery overpowered to begin with? Other quibbles specific to cannabis vapes include the propensity of 510 carts to clog, leak, or even turn on by themselves, running down the battery or potentially overheating in a purse or pocket.
None of these complaints has been enough to sink the closest thing to a universal industry standard. Indeed, companies continue to invest in 510 tech because it remains a popular and effective way to consume. Notably, neither 510-thread devices nor all-in-one alternatives released by companies like STIIZY, dosist, and Bloom subscribe to the “walled-garden” model made famous by companies like Apple—and that has inspired regulatory crackdown.
For example, the European Union recently decreed mobile phones and smartphones, cameras, tablets, and e-readers will be required to use a universal USB-C charging port by the end of 2024. By 2026, laptops will have similar requirements to prevent consumers from being stuck in technological “lock-in,” beholden to one manufacturer by the cords in their junk drawer. The goal is to reduce so-called e-waste as well as better support fast charging.
The 510-thread system has helped cannabis avoid the lock-in problem, but the rise of single-use devices also circumvents the charger problem faced by other consumer-electronics brands—by not requiring chargers at all.
The minimalism doesn’t end there. Not only do single-use devices sidestep the need for a charger, but they also offer consumers respite from the decision fatigue they’ve developed over the past three years. If you recall, the big trend just before the pandemic was connecting cannabis vapes to the Internet of Things with smart apps to control temperature, journal strains, and set up “party modes” for group seshes.
Just a few years later, consumers have turned to pared-down devices that emphasize ease of use over connectivity. Even the classic 510-thread devices feel a little too complicated for harried consumers trying to squeeze a few tokes into their busy days. An all-in-one, puff-and-go device doesn’t even require the consumer to swap out carts. It’s as straightforward as a ChapStick.
Many cannabis consumers are realizing they don’t really care what battery they use as long as it performs consistently. All-in-one devices, at least good ones, are built to address this issue.
Consumers also are more conscious than ever about the type of concentrate in their vape carts. Just look at how popular live resin has become in California over the past few years. Consumers understand what’s important: the actual cannabis they’re smoking. Beyond that, the best consumption device is the one that helps them engage with the product as efficiently as possible.
The sun won’t set on 510-thread devices anytime soon; the category has too much critical mass. But it will be interesting to see how this new generation of minimalist, all-in-one devices evolves in step with both consumer demands and shifts in the regulatory environment. Recycling, for example, is almost nonexistent in cannabis—in part due to regulatory challenges—but it won’t be long before consumers demand a higher level of sustainability from the industry.
One thing is certain: Life comes at you fast in this industry. Where the vape segment goes next in this wide-open country is anyone’s guess. As consumers settle into their next new normal, companies have an exciting opportunity to design a fresh future.
Casey Ly, co-founder and chief executive officer at Bloom, has directed go-to-market strategy for hundreds of products across North America and currently leads Bloom’s retail and direct-to-consumer sales, collaborative partnerships, and strategic brand expansion. Previously, he led business development for tech startup MaxCDN and served in a business-development role for the Opportunity Green event series, spearheading sustainability partnerships with blue-chip brands including BMW, Dell, Gensler, and Clorox.