After much pre-launch secrecy UK inventor James Dyson has unveiled the latest version of his famous "dual cyclone" vacuum cleaner, but will it set his company on a roll?
By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website
James Dyson bets on the "Ball" to boost his business
James Dyson is having a ball.
The ball in question is ribbed and comes in yellow, white and purple.
It's the heart of the latest Dyson vacuum cleaner, doubling up as both its wheel and motor casing.
And Mr Dyson has a lot riding on the success of his latest invention.
It took nearly four years, 182 patents and £25m to get the "Dyson DC15 The Ball" from scribbled sketch into department stores.
"We have no sales target, but personally I believe the Ball will account for 50% of all upright vacuum cleaners we sell," Mr Dyson tells BBC News.
Last year, the company sold two million of them, and hopes to better this number in 2005.
The upright challenge
But once the dust kicked up by Monday's launch ceremony has settled, it's up to the customers to decide whether "The Ball" is just another vacuum cleaner or worth the premium price - £319.99 for the basic "all floors" model, and up to £349.99 for the extra-clean "allergy" and "animals" versions.
And they have to decide whether they want to have an upright vacuum cleaner in the first place.
Because in a risky move, Dyson's marketing people are telling customers that upright cleaners are quite a drag.
With a layout that "hasn't changed significantly in the last 100 years" and that "can be hard going" because "tiring" uprights "do not steer," as the company asserts, why should customers invest in an upright - dual cyclone or not?
James Dyson gambles that old habits die hard: "Our two biggest markets are the United States and Britain, and both are strong on uprights; elsewhere, in Europe, Japan and Russia customers prefer cylinders" - the kind of vacuum cleaners that hug the floor and trail a long hose.
This preference for cumbersome uprights makes the DC15 "a very important product for our company", says Mr Dyson, and hopes the ball can inject the "swoosh" into uprights that has been lacking so far.
Having the motor in the ball lowers the centre of gravity - and thus gives the vacuum cleaner, which weighs 8.5kg (18.7lb), a lighter feel than other uprights.
Coupling the ball with a pivot point allows the DC15 to zigzag through domestic obstacle courses - past children's toys, under tables and behind the television.
What you see is what you get
Upright vacuum cleaners have fans; their suction power is superior to that of other vacuum cleaners. And if you have suffered through years of using an upright cleaner, steering the DC15 is indeed a revelation.
350 engineers and 182 patents later, the Dyson corners well
But if your cleaning needs are not quite that fastidious, you may yearn for the lightness of a hose attached to a machine resting firmly on the ground.
And then there is the famous Dyson design.
"What you see is what you get," says the Dyson engineer taking me through one of the obstacle courses set up for the DC15 demonstration.
There are no covers hiding the internal workings of the machine or the dust collector.
On this machine form follows function more than ever before.
Getting the ball rolling
Dyson has kick-started the campaign for "The Ball" with a television spot showing a swerving yellow ball.
The launch publicity also featured three large inflatable yellow balls which were floated down the River Thames in London.
Friends and relatives who saw the TV advert thought the ball was the whole vacuum cleaner, maybe some clever machine to be let loose at home, eliminating the need to push it around.
"We don't want to shock people with our cleaner," laughs Mr Dyson, "this is not a gimmick... we are in the business of doing things that work".
Things that work also turn a tidy profit, £102m last year alone.
The profit bonanza is the result not just of superior cleaning technology, but some controversial "offshoring" as well.
Dyson cleaners are not made in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, any more.
At the loss of 865 manufacturing jobs, production was moved to Malaysia three years ago.
This boosted profits, which allowed the company to grow and expand into the United States - where it became market leader in just two years.
But going to the stock market to fund further expansion is not on the cards, says Mr Dyson.
"If we would go public, I would have to spend time in the City; right now I can continue doing what I do best, tinkering with technology."