Still waiting for the #TextBlade?

Back in January 2016, I wrote a supply chain case study about a company called WayTools and their ‘TextBlade’ miniature keyboard. Since the case study is essentially about the non-appearance of a product, at that time about a year late, I thought that I might be able to use the case study once or twice before events overtook me, with WayTools silencing all the doubters by bringing their product to market at last.

Some customers, having paid $99 for a product that was supposed to be out within a month, have now been waiting almost two years. They weren’t signing up to a kickstarter project: the gadget was presented as a finished design, ready for volume production.

The various problems that WayTools reported (via their corporate blog, and in a user community forum) made it very useful as a case study showing some of the things that can go wrong, both internally and in the supply chain. It became the subject of a couple of our exam papers, but I never expected that I’d still be talking about WayTools’ failure to deliver the product as 2017 rolled in.

Detail from the TextBlade case study

You can download a copy of the case study here.

Two years is a long time in the technology sphere: mobile devices and the way we use them might have changed a lot in that time. WayTools have been fortunate that there have been no really big advances. For the most part, Apple users still contend with the woeful Siri, which means that natural speech isn’t about to replace the keyboard anytime soon… but there are newer and better kids on the block. Cortana, Google Now, Assistant.ai, and Viv all want to help users to get things done without typing. Meanwhile, the iPad pro has appeared, with a pretty good keyboard of its own – essentially copying that found on Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Since these are built into the protective screen cover, they don’t occupy much space. Is there still a market for a tiny-teeny keyboard, nowadays? WayTools think so, and (as far as we know) they’re still doggedly plugging away at refining their product.

An urge to make the best keyboard they possibly can appears to be the main problem. In May 2015, they reported that they’d replaced the nylon ‘butterflies’ under each key with liquid crystal polymer, improving the feel and durability of the keyboard. That’s commendable, except that people who had ordered one had expected to receive it months before. What was wrong with simply making in quantity the product that the tech journalists had enthused about, back in January 2015? Why not hold off on any improvements until the “mark 1” product had been delivered, generating a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue?

Typing with the TextBlade

TextBlade should haven taken the world by storm… two years back.

The new, stronger ‘butterflies’ were found to cause defects during the assembly stage, and a new fixture had to be designed as a work-around… and so on, and so on. Right up until the present, as far as I can tell. A few customers have been invited to join the Test Release Group (‘TREG’) and they have received sample units, but there’s still no sign of order fulfilment being achieved.

I think we can all agree that introducing a two-year delay while you take something that works and ‘improve’ it until it doesn’t is a distinctly unusual business practice.

TextBlade product packaging

Some customers may have been waiting for this for almost two years. [image: mcttrainingconsultant]

I have no axe to grind: I’m not out of pocket by $99. I wanted a TextBlade, sure enough… but I decided to wait and see. Thus far, it’s been all waiting and no seeing, but that’s actually a good thing. I wanted a TextBlade… but I didn’t really need one. It would have been fun to pose with one in meetings and on flights, but I can’t point to any particular job that didn’t get done in 2016 and say that’s because I didn’t have a miniature keyboard to use with my iPad.

When I write about the sustainable supply chain, perhaps I focus too much on the supply side. A big part of being ‘green’ isn’t about shopping for products that are made from sustainable materials, or products with low energy consumption: it’s about doing without. It’s about recognising that what you have will do, and perhaps paying off your debts instead of buying more stuff that you don’t really need. It’s taken me two years to realise it, but WayTools and I won’t be doing business, even if they were to announce tomorrow that they’ve just landed a container-load of TextBlades at Felixstowe, with all quality problems finally addressed and next-day delivery guaranteed. I’ve coped perfectly well without, and I know that I can continue to do so.

You may think that $99 is a bit pricey for a keyboard, nowadays, but one school of thought holds that buying expensive things can actually be quite ‘green’ (unless precious metals are involved). Better that you should buy a single, high-priced item than buy a whole bundle of less expensive items, embodying more materials, requiring more logistics, perhaps being less durable, and ultimately representing more waste at the end-of-life. Smart consumption requires that we understand that cheap stuff isn’t necessarily good for us.

My TextBlade journey has turned out to be very inexpensive and very ‘green’ indeed. If it had really existed when it was first launched, I think I would have bought one. By now, the novelty would have worn off, and indeed the product might even have worn out… and even if it still worked just fine, the industrial design of the TextBlade is starting to look just a little bit long in the tooth, now. But instead of being a disillusioned customer, I still have my $99, no resources have been wasted (other than whatever is consumed in web browsing) and I’ve reached an endpoint where I no longer feel that I lack a little keyboard.

TextBlade customers have been remarkably patient, considering. Their good-natured humour at each delay has been kinder than the manufacturer really deserves at this point. Even the Twitter bot called @Failtools that sends out a regular ‘status update’ in the style of WayTools’ own news bulletins has a certain bitter humour about it – and delivers a salutary lesson on the subject of public relations in the Internet era.

Some good things are worth waiting for, without a doubt. Glowforge comes to mind: a desktop laser cutter/engraver that’s been delayed more than once. Consider me very interested, but not enough to actually bankroll the development process. Sometimes, the expectation is simply greater than the reality. That’s a consequence of the science that we call marketing, but perhaps virtual products that never arrive offer a new form of gratification, where you get all the excitement and expectation, and never face the disappointment that comes with actual ownership.

It’s certainly worked for me.

(Also, I got a case study out of this. Thank you, WayTools.)

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31 thoughts on “Still waiting for the #TextBlade?

  1. I’m surprised that a whole year passed since I drew the Waiting for TextBlade Calendar 2016. I was an early backer of the Glowforge too, but my interest waned with each passing delay. Although I had cancelled long before the most recent delay, this post would have pushed me over the edge had I still been waiting – https://www.reddit.com/r/glowforge/comments/5g8o9w/a_theory_about_dan_and_glowforge_behavior/

    It’s just a theory from a reader, but my experience with TextBlade leads me to think there might be a kernel of truth to it.

    • Thanks for the additional insight, Adam. I suppose it’s not entirely implausible that nowadays there’s the game (design, manufacture, deliver) and the metagame (create brand, inflate value of brand, cash out). Who’s to say whether any particular entrepreneur will actually go the distance?

      It always surprised me that WayTools didn’t subcontract the manufacture of the TextBlade to an established business in the Far East, most likely for a lower landed cost and a lot less heartache!

  2. I place my order back in 2014, and it has been 2 years waiting for me as well. The company who are doing the drone, Lily, declare “The adventure has come to an end” so, USD 99 is not a lot for me, by now if I save 1 USD per day, i already got it a lot more by now. I will keep on waiting and see how long does it take.

    I do agree with Richard, the longer time it goes, it does reflected you don’t really need that keyboard in your daily life, which don’t forget it has been 2 years without it, may be by end of 2017 I still didn’t receive it….

  3. It will be two years for me this March that I “purchased” my TextBlade and still have yet to receive it. I think I’m actually going to cancel my order because after reading this (which was an awesome read by the way)…you made me realize that I really don’t NEED it.

    Yeah it would have been cool walking around with this really awesome keyboard but I think it would have been more for showing off rather than a real necessity. I love my tablet but I’m not really typing on it all that extensively (other than sending messages on Hangouts). It’s mostly used to watch YouTube videos, watching movies, and streaming Netflix.

    You know what…I’m cancelling my order.

    THANK YOU RICHARD FOR MAKING ME REALIZE MY GLUTINOUS WAYS!

  4. It’s a shame, Oscar, but… yes: perhaps it was time to take that step. Time-to-market is also time to realise you’re not in the market after all. Do something fun with your $99!

    • Yup! The nostalgia of having a new tech just wore off. Heck, there were many times in where I completely forgot I was waiting for this item.

      Those $99 will definitely go towards bringing the balance of my credit card closer to $0. :-)

  5. Yes all of the TREGers know what the early adopter gift is, but are legally restricted from disclosing it. After learning what the WayTools gift was, I can assure you that WayTools rewards the faith of all of their loyal customers with a gift that will not be disappoint.

  6. Yes all of the TREGers know what the early adopter gift is, but are legally restricted from disclosing it. After learning what the WayTools gift was, I can assure you that WayTools rewards the faith of all of their loyal customers with a gift that will not disappoint.

    • Can’t someone send me a private message and tell me what the damn gift is? Curious to know. One of the very first orderers on Jan 15 2015 but no Treg for me. Waytools are a strange lot, were this any other company or product I think I’d have told them to get stuffed by now.

  7. Well, I put my $99 in back in February 2015, so it’s almost 24 months now. I’m still interested in the keyboard, and I’ve survived without the Benjamin this long, so I’m still in.

    I expect it’ll show up eventually, once WayTools finishes making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good, and it’ll be a pleasant surprise, like finding a $20 bill in an old book or something.

  8. I have nothing but admiration for the Waytools engineering team, having been fortunate enough to possess and use a TextBlade for a few months. The wait will be worth it, trust me, this keyboard is the real deal. Once you use the TextBlade you’ll never go back to a legacy keyboard.

    • I’m sure that the keyboard and bonus gift are amazing but for me, after waiting all that time and using my tablet/phone without the use of a keyboard, I realized that I just didn’t NEED it as much as I wanted it. Plus, I don’t think any customer should have to wait over 2 years for a product that they’ve already paid for. Just me.

  9. I want this company to fail and I want this stupid product to crash and burn. The way they treat their customers is absurd. The worst aspect of it is how they obfuscate everything and simply can’t give straight answers. Even now, they’re holding the product back; why? There is a reason. A reason that is so bad that it makes the product currently unfit to release. And all the testers seemingly aren’t allowed to say what aspects of the device make it unfit for release – just the good parts. Nobody gives a **** what they are ******* around with with their relatives or whatever the hell they’re doing behind the scenes. People want to know exactly what’s wrong, what’s still holding back production, how bad it is (in terms of faulty entries) and what they have to do that’s taking so long. They keep saying that it’s a software problem. It’s not. My guess is that they badly misjudged how the touch behavior response. These stupid punks need a big serving of humble pie and their company going down in flames might just fill the bill.

  10. Sabeta, I can assure you with 100% certainty that neither of your wishes (company to fail, product to crash and burn) will become reality. I don’ know your background obviously but try to conceptualize developing, testing and preparing a breakthrough product for general release to the mass market worldwide, with all the keyboard variations (not just a qwerty type keyboard that I assume you know). WayTools will not rush the general release, there’s too much at stake, fully acknowledging the mistake made in 2015 in trying to release the product.. They are very close to general release, there are no current issues with the keyboard that I’m aware of. I’m not part of the company but have communicated with them. The keyboard absolutely rocks, it’s only a matter of time, be patient just a little while longer If you want your $99, hit the refund button, but you’d be a fool to do so in my view as previously advised. I’m proud to be involved in this great journey. Good luck to you.

    • As I noted once before, “the smallest good deed is better than the greatest good intention.” I can only speculate as to how many people have cancelled their TextBlade orders by now, but when you know that no ordinary customer has received a product, it brings into doubt all the talk about (for example) delays due to the introduction of a highly automated production system to cope with unexpected demand. Also, any fixes via firmware could be addressed over the air, post-shipping. As I say, I can’t know how many people have given up waiting, but I think we’re far, far beyond the point of “put up or shut up”, now.

      I hope they manage it, and the extraordinarily patient customers who remain are satisfied.

  11. You might change your tune if you go to the waytools.com website, then Threads, then Blog and read the ‘What Users are Saying’ blog (February 2017). Scroll down and you will see a portion of 100+ reviews sorted by various topics. Click on the ‘more from’ link and you can read the entire review. These impressions are all from ordinary paying customers who were selected for the Test Release Group (TREG).

    • Yeah…. exactly Selected Test Release Group…. same group 2 years ago…. No real product to Non-selected, pre-paid, real world customer review.

  12. The TREG group is expanded every month, selected from pre-paid, real world customers. These TREG customers are from countries all over the world, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, UK, US, etc.

  13. I wonder if what’s going on is WayTools treating this as a Kickstarter Campaign without ever actually publicly admitting it. I ordered back in 2015 and then cancelled about 1.5 years later. When I ordered, I was under the impression that the product design was complete and they were in actual production for general release.

    All the money WayTools has amassed in 2015 to now may have really been intended to run the company while it actually finished final design and testing (but never declared it so). This is a guess, of course, but it’s not unreasonable to think so.

    • Good decision, congrads, you have cancelled earlier than I do… Consider i waited for 2+ years to cancel the order, I must be really stupid.

  14. You clearly are uninformed as to how much it costs to run a company that employs a local team of hardware and software engineers that has contributed to a double digit number of patents over the years, does manufacturing, pays high rent in Santa Monica, CA, etc.

    It takes millions of dollars of capital supplied by the senior management team and/or outside investors to run this type of operation. The TextBlade sales revenue from early 2015 would not sustain the company nearly this long. WayTools is still perfecting the TextBlade for general release, which obviously has been delayed longer than expected, which has cost the company tens of millions of dollars in delayed sales. I believe that a number of large keyboard manufacturing competitors are watching their developments very closely.

    Keep in mind that the TextBlade took a number of years to incubate and the parent company (NextEngine.com) has a very successful product (3D scanner) and has run a profitable business for many years. Glad you got your $99 refund, no doubt you received it within 24 hours of requesting it, based on others who have reported their seamless refund experience, many of whom have subsequenly re-ordered!

    WayTools wants happy customers and wants to deliver a revolutionary portable keyboard but only when it meets their high quality standards, with the help of their beta testers, known as TREGgers (Test Release Group). My guess, and that’s all it is, is that WayTools is very close to general release of the TextBlade to the mass market, as they continue to work out all of the minor issues that beta testing has uncovered. Nothing this good is ever easy. I obviously am a big fan of the cause.

  15. Yes, I confess to being honest about my opinion, I welcome yours. Strong user reviews continue to accumulate, go to their website. Let’s hope they release it to the market soon. I predict, based on those reviews, that it will be a big success.

  16. Jae, Yes, you are slightly confused. Let me help you understand. Go to the WayTools.com website, Hit Buy, then Checkout, scroll down in the Cart to the bottom right and you will see, “Pre-Order Now, Est. Ship: FALL” This indicates to me a Pre-Order with an Estimated Ship date in the Fall. No fraud, I reckon, sir. you can obtain a refund at anytime.

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