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 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.)

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49 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,

    YP

  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.

  8. “What I have determined though, with absolute certainty, is that Waytools is real. They have a real product. They are truly working hard to get it right. We don’t all have visibility to the process. I think it is abundantly clear that many people here would do things differently than Waytools when it comes to the path toward General Release. But you know what? The people here on the forums that would follow a different path to general release aren’t the people that invented this wonderful keyboard! So while they might have (if we believe them, snicker) been able to get to general release “sooner” than Waytools, we know for certain they wouldn’t have gotten to general release with the TextBlade – it would have been some other product.”

    “I guess what I’m saying is, I’m willing to go on record (as I am doing right now, with this post) to say that I personally believe in Waytools. I believe in the TextBlade. I believe it is a real product, that will REALLY be going to market. And I believe it will be going to market relatively soon (I am hopeful it will be this year). And if it doesn’t go to market this year, I believe that would be with good reason – in other words, that Waytools is hell bent on making a “dent in the universe” with this product. They want to do it right and they won’t release it until it is right. No, that doesn’t mean they will allow a chase toward perfection to prevent them from ever shipping. Instead, they truly will work through the issues and get it out to General Release. And when they do, the world will take notice. I look forward to that day. I honestly think we all do – we just wish that day were today.”

    “Anyway, mark my words – this thing is real, and it will really be available to everyone eventually. Hopefully SOON!”

    • “A few initial thoughts:

      TextBlade feels AWESOME. It is quite obvious I’m not using it yet to even a tiny fraction of its’ potential. It is also clear that a lot of thought has gone into how it works, the layout, the software, etc. etc. The hardware design and the thought behind every aspect of this product is EXEMPLARY. No other word for it!

      They’ve put the time in to provide an exemplary product, now I need to put the time in to be capable of using it to its’ full potential……”

  9. And now it’s May 2018 and we can safely say Waytools is waaaaaay out there!

    Gone

    (Yes, I was one of those who thought the product was brilliant and put down the dough.)

  10. 3 years later. I’m glad I got a refund and moved on long ago. I couldn’t take the frustration of “any day now” for 3 years.

    • Indeed! This is insane! I once too placed an order, I think in 2015? I can’t even remember now! At that time when I ordered, the shipping date was within 6 months and so I pre-ordered. The date kept push back. How is it possible that Waytools estimate the shipping date to be 6 months ahead of the order and here we are some 3 almost 4 years later and still nowhere?

      I still remember dabigkahuna (personality on the Waytool forum) being such a big defender of Waytools’ practices. Well, it’s almost 4 years later….

  11. I’m now ready to post what I would call some reasonably informed thoughts on the TextBlade, trying to go chronologically:

    Initial impressions, even in my memory right now, were and remain SPECTACULAR. You truly have no idea from the videos or photos what this thing is like in your hands, in daily use, and ESPECIALLY in the depth of the truly pro level features it has.

    I love the keytravel. I remember reading some people’s posts where they said it was the best feeling keyboard they’ll ever used and I have to admit I was skeptical, I’ve found over the years that people, especially online, seem to “forgive” shortfalls if something else (say the cool factor) is significant enough. So I read those posts assuming what they meant was “the key feel is very good, and because this thing is so portable, I consider it to be better than anything else I’ve used”. In actual fact, the keys are spectacular! Even compared to other standard keys. I’ll put it this way to put it into perspective: If they made a standard layout/size keyboard with these keys (keytravel, mechanism, etc), I seriously think it would be incredibly popular, especially oh laptops. One other thing I think is worth mentioning on this front: The keys also have a reassuring sound. They aren’t loud at all but do have enough (and soft) of a sound to reassure you and give the feedback that I like having.

    Please remember I wasn’t a touch typist before getting the TextBlade, I was initially pulled in by the cool factor and portability, but my efficiency at typing was very poor at first. The angle of the keys meant my previously learned two finger method wasn’t usable on the TextBlade. Here are some ways this was manifest for me:

    A. If I had limited time to type a long post here, I’d do it on a regular keyboard because it took too long to do with the TextBlade

    B. If I had a lot to communicate to a co-worker, I’d use a regular keyboard rather than have them wait what felt like forever (more to me than them, honestly, because of going from 90 wpm to 15 wpm) for me to type things out.

    C. I just lacked confidence. In retrospect, this stemmed largely from having to stop and really SEARCH for characters like @ or !. It is hard to explain, but I’ve prided myself on being able to type faster than “most” other people. At least of those I’m around, I’m the fastest typist. That meant I could rapidly send information to someone at work over IM or email. It meant sending out a long email to document a complicated finding was a task I looked forward to because it wou.d go quickly and would alleviate confusion instead of being a dreadful long chore. My initial use of the TextBlade was troubled by this in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I guess it was a bit of pride. I had feelings like… “what if they think I’ve suddenly become unable to type well?” And “what if they feel like I’m taking too long to respond” or “what if I end up having to send my response with typos in it just to try to send it in a reasonable amount of time?” For me, these were real feelings that impacted my willingness to use the TextBlade for all my daily activities.

    It felt (and still does actually) very strange to have to “shift” numbers to type them. In other words, to first have to hold a key down to type a number in. I guess after DECADES of typing numbers in without doing anything special, this just felt odd. It still feels odd. I find myself typing the letters instead of the numbers on occasion because I still forget. This is a VERY WORTHWHILE trade off though. I can now easily touch type all the numbers without looking, something I’d never done in decades of typing! And in addition, because of how they do function keys, I can touch type the function keys, which is VERY handy for coding. So the trade off is well worth it, just takes a while to overcome decades of muscle memory. And speaking of that..

    Learn to touch type before you get your TextBlade!!!! That would have been huge for me. Instead, a huge part of my transition has ALSO been learning to type properly.

    I think for me, reaching just 40 wpm on the TextBlade was enough for me to be comfortable enough to transition. I’m now at 50 wpm and will get higher over time I’m sure. I can feel a huge improvement after just using the TextBlade for two days as my only keyboard!

    Some continued mistypes occur for me as I get used to the TextBlade. Most notably, I hit backspace instead of the letter p, less often return instead of ‘, and z remains difficult for me to consistently type. I have some issues with v/b n/m and r/t and y/u. If you look at a TextBlade, this comes down to me having problems around the characters that share the same physical key. It is going to take me some time. I feel it getting better the more I use it, and honestly the most difficulty stems from poor form on my part. My previous typing style had me hovering over the keyboard by several inches. If I do that with the TextBlade, my fingers lose their place. I need to stick closer to keys now and this feels different but will translate to increased typing speed from my fingers having less distance to travel. Time and practice will fix this, I am certain.

    There is no way I can express this well enough here, but the sheer depth of configuratiom is wholly unparalleled, I’ve been trying to think of a way to explain this, and I’ve failed, but this is my best bet: Some keyboards and mice have zero configurability to change things like what the keys do, macros, etc. And MANY people would say you don’t need to change that stuff. And for some people, that would be true. I’ve owned several 4+ button mice in my life. Some of them were fully customizable, some had effectively none. In a particularly bad situation, one I bought from Logitech began life with lots of customizability, but later software releases reduced this immensely to where I could no longer do what I’d done before. Then you get to those situations where you use a mouse or a keyboard on multiple operating systems. I’ve owned DOZENS of mice and keyboards over the years, and none of them handle multiple OS’s in a consistent way. And always there is one that is “primary” in terms of what you can adjust (ie, on windows you have lots of options but on OS X you don’t or vice versa). Granted, the APP to adjust things for the TextBlade is iOS specific, but once configured, those changes work equally well on each OS (windows, mac, iOS, android). Further, the sheer depth of what can be configured is off the charts. I’ll be honest, and I don’t like to be critical, but the documentation, to me anyway, isn’t as good as it could be. I would even go so far as to say it isn’t as good as it NEEDS to be in some cases, but I’m going to be working with Waytools to improve that. NONE of the documentation issues are such that they should delay general release, but I still want to help improve the situation.

    In summary, the TextBlade is on the surface an alternative keyboard with immense portability. In depth, however, it is something truly extraordinary in a breadth of areas, some unexpected, many of them things not everyone will need, but surely everyone will need or at least appreciate some of them. The portability still blows my mind, as does the customization.

    Waytools the company, the people, despite the impression you may get from the naysayers here and elsewhere, they have a heart, a soul, a desire to make something extraordinary, and it shows. The care with which this device has been crafted in every dimension from the hardware to the software, to even the layout of the shifted/chorded keys is remarkable to me. I mean that very sincerely. In almost every case that I’ve had the power to remap where things are on a keyboard, I’ve been able to make vast useability improvements almost immediately. The TextBlade is thought out so well, I haven’t had any need to do that. But the capability exists (i know, I used it to make changes I eventually realized I didn’t have to. :slight_smile:). One of the things that gives me confidence in the TextBlade is knowing that if I want to make any changes in the future, that I can.

    Having used the TextBlade for nearly a month now, I am truly in awe of not only how much is packed into this tiny device, but HOW WELL it was packed in.

    • Thanks for the product review. Would I be right in saying that you are in fact one of several hundred members of the Test Release Group – the only folks who actually have a TextBlade at the moment? I checked the company website again, and WayTools don’t appear to have delivered any production units yet.

      Some of their would-be customers think they never will.

      I’m guessing that the appearance of Bluetooth 5 gives WayTools a handy excuse to kick the can a little further down the road, too.

    • Coming up to 4 years of delay for general release??? That is absurd to say the least. They keep promising updates, and cannot even keep their own promise, truly, truly annoying.

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