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,, 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 sent out a regular ‘status update’ in the style of WayTools’ own news bulletins (now suspended by Twitter, sadly) had a certain bitter humour about it – and delivered 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.)


40 thoughts on “Still waiting for the TextBlade?

  1. Dear Waytools management team,

    I can’t actually even remember when I placed my order, but we are close to the end of 2017 and Texblade’s launch Is meanwhile long overdue.

    Intrigued by your revolutionary product, I decided to back it from the beginning, but by now see the mistake an engineering start-up is typically making: striving for perfection (I can’t count the numerous technical updates I have read meanwhile) while the market is completely passing them by, and they should have long been on it.

    As a successful founder and CEO of multiple start-ups over the last 20 years, and currently working in private equity, I can’t tell you how disappointed I’d be if Waytools would not market its current product in 2017 without further delay in order to not jeopardize Waytools existence and future. Your fnancial backers will not continue to support you with this progress, and further financing rounds will be tough, as you have very little progress to report, except that “the product is almost perfect”. But every investor will challenge your market numbers, which have evolved since the start of TextBlade. And as the market shrunk, any exit potential for the company (if that was ever the quick win strategy) will fast disappear.

    Meanwhile though, I remain fully interested by your product, and have mentally refused to cancel my order. But I have been close.
    So I’m writing you two-fold:
    1. To advise you on an immediate market-launch, with any hard- and soft updates to the product be made in a 2.0 version.
    2. And that meanwhile I receive my Textblade, as is, still before end of 2017.
    I don’t want the Rolls Royce of the keyboards in four years, I wanted a great keyboard last year, and at $99 will buy a new one when the first one crashes.

    I’d be happy to advise Waytools in its GTM or financing strategy, but as I meanwhile have no option but to have faith your current management will execute this, I for now would just be happy to finally receive my TextBlade 1.0.

    Kind regards,


  2. “…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….”

    I had been waiting my order to come since 2014. I didn’t cancel, thinking 100 dollars isn’t a big deal compared other more expensive ‘must have’ gadgets I updated, more often than should.

    I canceled my order after reading this article.

    No doubt, Textblade would have been great for my mobile work style. But, the substituted iPad keyboard cover has been great for me more than a year.

    Even then, I still waited thinking, wouldn’t Textblade be awesome when I’m not with my iPad?

    During my long wait, there really wasn’t a situation where I had to type so vigorously over my iPhone. If anything long, voice dictation was good enough for quick writing.

    Thank you very much for pointing out facts I could not see. I can understand why some commented it felt good to tap dance, after I cancelled(which also someone pointed out it’d be very quick).

    If TextBlade is still what I need, sure I will re-order.
    When it’s out on real market.

  3. I very much enjoyed your text. Thank you. I have a similar experience, with the three differences that I lost my patience and asked for a refund 14 months after I had paid, that I didn’t get a case study out of it, and that I am still reminded of the thing by the app they rolled that as a form of apology for the delay which was supposed to work with the keyboard -hence never- and that I can’t fully erase from my history in the Apple AppStore.

  4. I ordered a set of Kanoa headphones and a Textblade at about the same time. I cancelled both of them a while later. Lucky move, seeing how the Kanoa is dead now, and nobody will get their money back. It‘s only a matter of time until the same happens to the Textblade.

    I am kinda unlucky with preorders on „revolutionary“ new products. I also supported a Kickstarter on a game called „The Universim“, which – just like Kanoa and Textblade – was originally made to look like a near-finished product, when in fact, it was non-existent. Development is still ongoing, but so slowly that it will never get done. I give it another year before they kill that project also.

  5. I am one of the many who paid for and is still waiting for the Text Blade. All that good natured humor you read on the forums is what’s left. As their forums are expertly cultivated and purged of any who say a word against the company. I was banned for a bit because I called them out on several lies. They ban and delete everything they don’t like.

  6. Hilarious to see people posting here who requested and received a TextBlade refund but insist on its demise. Respect to those, myself included, with the extreme patience to stick around, $99 worth of entertainment.. The forums tell me that the product is real, not non-existent, although the delay in release has been far greater than anyone reasonably expected.

  7. Vaporware text :)
    So I’m also one of those suckers who is still hanging in by a slim thread.. 99$ is not a lot, but three years definitely is for a promise of just typing !
    Internally thinking, if they don’t ship by June, I’m canceling.

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