WayTools' TextBlade Keyboard to Start Shipping to Test Group Users Next Week

In January of 2015, WayTools announced the TextBlade, a compact, collapsible keyboard that sparked a lot of interest with its unique multilayered layout that replaces a full keyboard with eight large smart keys.

Refinements, production issues, and other hiccups have long delayed the release of the TextBlade, which was originally scheduled to ship out to pre-order customers in the early months of 2015. After a long development period that has frustrated many early customers, WayTools is finally ready to begin shipping the TextBlade, albeit with a caveat - a limited number of test customers will receive the first TextBlades that are going out, to provide final feedback before a full rollout.


Starting late next week, pre-order customers who signed up for the TextBlade Test Release Group (TREG) in January and were accepted will start receiving TextBlade shipments. TextBlades will go out to testers on a rolling basis with shipments happening every few days. The Test Release Group was announced to customers through their pre-order page and while WayTools can't accommodate everyone who applied, a couple hundred customers will be participating and will be receiving TextBlades.


Mark Knighton, WayTools' CEO, says the company is using the Test Release Group to iron out final bugs ahead of the full TextBlade release.
We're not expecting huge problems. We think it will be firmware and we think it will be corner cases -- unusual cases. The basics are operating fine. What we're looking for is what happens when you press a weird button combination, or your unit gets stuck and doesn't respond. That's a software failure. It's rare, and usually some weird corner case. We've killed off most of those, but some of that may come up. We're looking for the number of incidents where someone has to reset [the TextBlade] to be miniscule.
Customers who are not part of the testing group will need to wait longer to receive their TextBlades, and the wait is dependent on the outcome of the testing. Should all go well, a general release could happen towards the end of March, but the wait could be several weeks longer. "TREG tests will be complete when users give us the thumbs up," said Knighton. "Based on what we find together, that may take as little as a week, or up to several weeks. When the TREG users are happy, we'll start the broader release."

To give users who are awaiting their own TextBlades a first look at a TextBlade in the wild, WayTools sent me one under the same confidentiality agreement as the testing group. I'll share some unboxing photos and initial thoughts on the TextBlade below, but there are still a few details that will remain under wraps until the final release.


The TextBlade ships in minimal eco-friendly packaging. Mine arrived not in a box, but in a mailing envelope protected by a built-in frame and a sturdy product box, all of which WayTools says is biodegradable. The TextBlade is in its own box, and included was an accessory pack with an extra stand.


There are no manuals or other papers in the box because WayTools plans to direct users with questions to its website and app, but the lid (which won't be shown) includes a welcome message and details on the early adopter guarantee and gift. The box itself has minimal labeling, with just a picture of a folded TextBlade on the front, FCC and other regulatory labeling at the side, and a full TextBlade with an iPhone on the back.


Inside the box, there's a stainless steel plate that a folded TextBlade rests on. The TextBlade is magnetic, so that plate makes sure the TextBlade doesn't move in shipping and it makes sure it's right at hand as soon as the box is opened up. The TextBlade also ships with extra butterflies for the keys.


I received a TextBlade on Thursday morning, so I've had it on hand for about 24 hours. Many of you are already familiar with the TextBlade and its four components -- a stand for holding an iPhone or iPad, two blades with four keys each and a space bar that powers it all. Each of the keys is layered, so while there are only eight keys, you can type anything on the TextBlade you can type on a standard keyboard through a combination of key presses. If you want a more in-depth look at how the TextBlade works (and a look inside), make sure to check out the first hands-on post I did where I visited WayTools in Santa Monica.

The underside of the TextBlade pieces

I'll be doing a full review of the TextBlade in a few weeks after I've spent a good amount of time with it and have been able to form a firm opinion on the usage experience, but I can say from a first look that it works, and it works well. I can't speak to what small firmware bugs may pop up, but in the hours that I've used it so far, my experience has been positive. Everything I've done has worked seamlessly, from setup to testing the app to typing, and I haven't run into any bugs even though I've got a pre-TREG unit with firmware that's about 10 days old.

The SpaceBlade houses the TextBlade's charger, which pops out of the end when tapped and plugs into any USB port.

My unit looks like the first TextBlades I saw months ago, but as most know, there have been a lot of tweaks and refinements. Speaking to general feel, the keys are a bit softer than the keys of a Retina MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, but there's good amount of travel and I found them satisfying to press. The pieces of the TextBlade feel delicate but sturdy, and I'm still impressed with the functionality vs. the size. Folded up, it's pocketable.

The TextBlade stand can't hold up the iPad Pro, but it does work to prop it up at a slight angle for typing.

I type thousands of words per day on a Retina MacBook Pro keyboard, so the TextBlade is a major adjustment for me. There's a definite learning curve here. I need to memorize new finger placement and the functions of the keys, and I suspect the time to really master the TextBlade is going to range into weeks and not days.

As far as early learning, the app has been helpful. The TextBlade can be entirely customized through the app, enabling or disabling functions, changing the boundaries of keys to match different typing styles, and remapping keys. There's also a mode that displays a virtual TextBlade on the screen that works as a visual guide to let me know what I'm going to get when I touch a specific key.


One of the details I'm not able to mention is the Early Adopter gift that will be provided to customers who already pre-ordered or pre-order now before the TextBlade's general release, but I think most people will be pleased with it.

The Early Adoption period ends when the TextBlade starts shipping, but for now, there's still an option to get the free MultiMap software and a FutureProof Guarantee, where WayTools will replace TextBlades during the first year if any major hardware revisions are made. As a warning, new customers should know that orders aren't going to ship out until previous pre-order customers have received their shipments.


As I mentioned, pre-orders will ship after the testing period is complete. I realize that after months of waiting, more waiting doesn't sound at all appealing, but with TextBlades in the hands of testers, pre-order customers can at least get a concrete idea of what to expect out of the TextBlade through the hands-on experiences and opinions shared by testers.

WayTools' taciturnity on the TextBlade between sparse development updates has been the most frustrating aspect of the wait for many customers, but with a launch on the horizon, that silence is at an end.



Top Rated Comments

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27 weeks ago
Thank you for this update, Juli. Many of us appreciate your coverage on Textblade and Waytools over the year.

While the Textblade itself seems like a wonderful technology that's unique (especially after reading your reading your current post), I feel morally obligated to warn potential buyers about the company that is Waytools.

I've never dealt with a company that's more backwards, opaque and downright hostile to customers than Waytools. They promised transparency and accurate status of your order on their website, but they never provide a straight answer to anything and the shipping status has become a joke within the forum. They always say they'll ship by end of such and such month, even after that date passed. They always say they worked out such and such bugs, never telling you what's wrong or what they're aiming to fix, leaving everyone in the dark and with false hope that it's going to ship soon.

They've been doing this every month almost like clockwork for the last year.

But it gets better (or should I say worse). A year ago, they went on a rampage where they accused everyone questioning their service as a shill or a spy for a competitor, and later even cancelling the orders of people posting complaints or otherwise negative things about them (mostly their horrid customer service), to a point where people had to put "Waytools: do not cancel my order" in their posts' signature, for fear of triggering another paranoid response from them.

But this TREG escapade is the worst by far. It's completely mired in secrecy and all this unnecessary cloak-and-dagger BS that Waytools seems to get off on. No one knows exactly how many were picked as testers, from where, by what criteria, for what purpose, nor how long it will all take. From what I can gather, it took Waytools about a week to choose a person, one week to send them a non-disclosure agreement, one week to arrange some sort of shipment schedule which may not happen for a while because they're still testing the testing units before sending out.

So, I'm shocked that you received one, because as far as I know, no one who signed up for TREG has received one yet, nor will they in the near future... nevermind the rest of the early adopters like me who ordered more than a year ago.

But here's the final kicker. They have implemented a remote kill switch and key logger into the testing units. Waytools has admitted to that and insists they're necessary for testing purposes, and that it will be removed after testing. So, unless they have a completely different build for the general release units, those two malwares will be present in every Textblade unit, whether dormant or not. Now, I may be overblowing the potential harm that can come out of this, but in the age of Edward Snowden and NSA's fallout, this is at best a boneheaded move on the part of Waytools, whether they're truly needed for testing or not.

With all that said, I still do like the idea of Textblade and the technology, but the Waytools company is the worst I've ever dealt with in all my years of being a tech gadget freak. At some point, it's not worth the nightmare of dealing with such a sanctimonious, pompous and horrendous company. If and when you do receive one, know that you're getting an orphan, because I guarantee you won't be getting any support.
Rating: 10 Votes
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27 weeks ago
I want to give everyone an update on MacRumors' position on the TextBlade. We've read through the comments posted here, taken into account emails we've received, and looked through information on the WayTools forums. We've heard what you have to say and we won't be continuing on to do a review or further coverage of the TextBlade.

To set the record straight, I have never had any kind of monetary or personal relationship with the WayTools staff. I've been criticized for the tone of my posts, which I wrote as someone who was just as excited as you were about a unique keyboard on the market that went above and beyond anything else available.

I want to explain something about my early posts that I think gives some insight into why I trusted what WayTools had to say. When I visited WayTools in March, I saw and used a finished TextBlade product. I saw a room full of engineers typing on finished TextBlades.

I saw the components for hundreds of TextBlades and rows and rows of completed TextBlades. Having used one myself, which seemed to function well, I had no reason to think that the TextBlade wouldn't be shipping out soon. I was told about a change to the butterfly, but I was also told an updated version was already in production and would ship soon.

Ahead of my second post in July, I was told a lot of reasonable information about why there had been a delay since March and how those problems had all been fixed. A lot of products can get delayed at the stage from limited production to mass production, so I gave WayTools the benefit of the doubt because the TextBlade finally seemed ready to ship (to Night Spring -- I *did* do research on this).

This time, I saw dozens and dozens of completed TextBlades lined up. I saw people using them. I saw photos of the TextBlade production line in Malaysia and I was told hundreds of TextBlades were being made and were going to be ready to go out in July.

Was I overly optimistic and perhaps too trusting? Yes. Was I out to deceive? Absolutely not. As the months ticked by after July, I decided not to continue on with coverage until the TextBlade started shipping. This time around, I had a TextBlade in my possession at the time of the post, concrete proof that WayTools is finally letting them out into the wild. I wouldn't have done a post at all had I not received multiple requests to do so.

I didn't ignore the production issues and the long delays in this most recent post, but many of you feel that I did not go far enough highlighting the customer service problems. To that end, I would like to say that there are problems that I was not even aware of, such as the canceling of orders.

A lot of the accusations in this thread have been off base and highly stressful for me. I've been struggling figure out how to explain myself in a way that you guys would find satisfactory, and I'm still not sure how to do it. The idea that I would deceive MacRumors readers or write something untruthful for money (or whatever other benefit I'm supposedly getting out of this) is so entirely preposterous to me that I've been at a loss for words.

I've been with MacRumors for 2012 and I love my job. I love the community. I love writing for all of you. I didn't set out to trick, deceive, or disappoint anyone and I apologize if I have unwittingly done so.
Rating: 7 Votes
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26 weeks ago

I want to give everyone an update on MacRumors' position on the TextBlade. We've read through the comments posted here, taken into account emails we've received, and looked through information on the WayTools forums. We've heard what you have to say and we won't be continuing on to do a review or further coverage of the TextBlade.


Hi Juli,

I humbly request you rethink your decision. There are many us who appreciate your coverage on this subject, probably more so than all the detractors combined. We're just not as vocal as the ones bent on the negatives. In fact, I think we outnumber them by a huge margin from seeing (from waytools forum) the influence you had in people's buying decision after your original article.

I'm sorry you had to endure people wrongly accusing you of collusion, that your writing is advertising, all that nonsense. But you're always going to have complainers, conspiracy theorists in all things. Personally, I love your writings, following you for years, and looked forward to your final review of the Textblade. I think it would be a great way to get a closure on the matter.

I apologize for starting any negative vibes, but I feel it had to be said. But please please please rethink your decision. Thank you.
Rating: 4 Votes
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27 weeks ago
Waytools is bad news. They are going to ship nearly eleventh months ago. Why MR keeps covering this company is beyond me. It should be embarrassing to Macrumors.
Rating: 3 Votes
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27 weeks ago

Let's get something straight here. I am in no way "smitten" with WayTools. I have zero relationship with them and zero stake in whether the TextBlade succeeds. What *is* true is that just like all of you, I think that the TextBlade is a neat product that does something unique. I thought the TextBlade was an interesting product when I first saw it, and I was impressed with the hands-on time that I spent with it back in March. That's the sole reason that I wrote about it.

I have continued to write about it because I have been asked to do so from pre-order customers like you. Communication about the TextBlade hasn't been great, as you well know, so I have tried my best to share information with customers. Not because WayTools asked me to, but so people who ordered could have some background on what's going on.


Some people need to get a grip. So you are, understandably, frustrated. Doesn't justify some of the things you are saying, including attacking the writer of the article.

Calling out is the same as attacking? Really?

Look, here it is. A child could see that the real story here is that of WayTool's deception, obfuscation, and stringing customers along. Glance at the original story's thread and that becomes obvious. To blithely post a (second) excessively lengthy marketing-style write-up which almost completely ignores the fact that this product is inextricably linked to misleading customers is like writing a story about the technical marvel of the Deepwater Horizon as it's spewing crude into the Gulf.

The kindest thing to say is that it's terrible journalism. And that's not a personal attack. It's just the truth.
Rating: 3 Votes
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4 weeks ago
The company is just a Ponzi scheme. Glad I canceled and was able to get my money back before the collapse. I suggest everyone do the same while you still can
Rating: 3 Votes
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27 weeks ago
Let me correct some misinformation posted in some comments.

First, the TREG test group is not Waytools friends and employees. I'm one of them and I don't know a single person at Waytools. Others selected can tell you the same thing.

There was a request for testers on their status page. Anyone who checked their status after they made the announcement could see it and sign up.

They do provide straight answers to many thing. They also need to do so more often, but no need to exaggerate the issue!

Same for telling us what is wrong. They do this, but not often enough. No need to exaggerate.

TREG isn't all that secretive either. Sure, they don't tell us how they chose certain people, but what company does? We signed an agreement which is darn lenient, in my opinion. We can't talk about future products we may learn about. Nothing wrong with that. But we can report our experiences anywhere we want. We can even report on our communications with Waytools. I just did that yesterday as I was one of those called by Waytools about TREG. We talked about a number of things and I reported it on their forum for others to see. I'm not the only one called who did that.

Shipping is estimated for the latter part of next week but, yeah, that depends on how their other testing goes. Is this cause for concern? Sure. But is there really anything wrong with it in principle? I don't think so. Only if you assume it is just an illegitimate excuse to delay things. Assumptions aren't good. So it makes no sense to just declare we won't get the units in the near future, even if they miss next week.

There is no remote kill switch. Testers will have a temporary token which must be periodically updated by running the TextBlade app. If it isn't updated, the unit will stop working, but it is all internal to your system. This is just logical security. Furthermore, there are not two different builds (one for testing and one not). When testing is done, all units get a permanent token - thus the same code which simply looks at the token periodically.

The key logger is no big deal either. First, the USER has to turn it on. If turned on, it tracks the last minute of typing. This lets the system track what was happening to lead up to a problem. Second, IF you turn it on, then nothing gets sent until the USER gets to see what was logged and only then, IF THE USER decides to, they can upload it to Waytool to help with debugging.

There are plenty of things to complain about, but some of the complaints are either not true or are exaggerated. Accuracy is best so people can decide what matters to them if considering a purchase.
Rating: 3 Votes
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27 weeks ago
The last few comments bring us back to the most salient point for this discussion: how should MacRumors cover the TextBlade going forward (and any other pre-release, exclusive articles it agrees to write)?

I think it comes down to what kind of website MacRumors wants to be. If MacRumors wants to maintain a reputation for objectivity and a focus on concerns of Apple users, I think it needs to take a hard look at how it covered WayTools and at the tone and perspective used in writing about the TextBlade. It also should take care to be extremely scrupulous about disclosing anything that could be construed as a conflict of interest. At a minimum, the review of the TextBlade should be written by somebody who has not been directly involved in what's been going on for over a year now.

If, on the other hand, MacRumors prefers to be an anything-goes-caveat-emptor-industry-gossip kind of site (MacTMZ? MacBreitbart?), then it can freely ignore what a lot of us have been saying here. The tradeoff, of course, is MacRumors will have zero credibility when it wants to publish serious news, opinions, or reviews.

Personally, my perception of the content on MacRumors has changed over the course of the WayTools situation. While I initially thought the first preview article, with its uncharacteristic resemblance to a press release, was an outlier and was due to enthusiasm over a unique idea, I now view non-Apple product news on MacRumors with some skepticism.
Rating: 2 Votes
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26 weeks ago

I want to give everyone an update on MacRumors' position on the TextBlade. We've read through the comments posted here, taken into account emails we've received, and looked through information on the WayTools forums. We've heard what you have to say and we won't be continuing on to do a review or further coverage of the TextBlade.

To set the record straight, I have never had any kind of monetary or personal relationship with the WayTools staff. I've been criticized for the tone of my posts, which I wrote as someone who was just as excited as you were about a unique keyboard on the market that went above and beyond anything else available.

I want to explain something about my early posts that I think gives some insight into why I trusted what WayTools had to say. When I visited WayTools in March, I saw and used a finished TextBlade product. I saw a room full of engineers typing on finished TextBlades.

I saw the components for hundreds of TextBlades and rows and rows of completed TextBlades. Having used one myself, which seemed to function well, I had no reason to think that the TextBlade wouldn't be shipping out soon. I was told about a change to the butterfly, but I was also told an updated version was already in production and would ship soon.

Ahead of my second post in July, I was told a lot of reasonable information about why there had been a delay since March and how those problems had all been fixed. A lot of products can get delayed at the stage from limited production to mass production, so I gave WayTools the benefit of the doubt because the TextBlade finally seemed ready to ship (to Night Spring -- I *did* do research on this).

This time, I saw dozens and dozens of completed TextBlades lined up. I saw people using them. I saw photos of the TextBlade production line in Malaysia and I was told hundreds of TextBlades were being made and were going to be ready to go out in July.

Was I overly optimistic and perhaps too trusting? Yes. Was I out to deceive? Absolutely not. As the months ticked by after July, I decided not to continue on with coverage until the TextBlade started shipping. This time around, I had a TextBlade in my possession at the time of the post, concrete proof that WayTools is finally letting them out into the wild. I wouldn't have done a post at all had I not received multiple requests to do so.

I didn't ignore the production issues and the long delays in this most recent post, but many of you feel that I did not go far enough highlighting the customer service problems. To that end, I would like to say that there are problems that I was not even aware of, such as the canceling of orders.

A lot of the accusations in this thread have been off base and highly stressful for me. I've been struggling figure out how to explain myself in a way that you guys would find satisfactory, and I'm still not sure how to do it. The idea that I would deceive MacRumors readers or write something untruthful for money (or whatever other benefit I'm supposedly getting out of this) is so entirely preposterous to me that I've been at a loss for words.

I've been with MacRumors for 2012 and I love my job. I love the community. I love writing for all of you. I didn't set out to trick, deceive, or disappoint anyone and I apologize if I have unwittingly done so.


Juli:

I certainly understand your decision, in light of the boneheaded posts that have been leveled at you. Let me say that I remain a solid fan of your outstanding work, and I deplore the pointless invective that you've had to suffer just because of a flock of negative babies wallowing in their own misery. The anonymity of electronic communications seems to trigger this kind of cowardly attack. The adults in the room would like to apologize for the kids' tantrums, their despicable behavior and for any discomfort they've caused you. I will miss your cancelled perceptions of TextBlade and NEVER doubted your integrity for a minute.
Rating: 2 Votes
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1 week ago

Since I'm pretty sure you haven't traveled here from the future, you are simply confusing your opinion with fact.

You see, I've watched this argument for over a year. Every month someone will declare that it definitely won't ship the following month and the reasoning is always the same - that they failed to do so in the past.

Well, if that is the argument, then it essentially means it will never ship just because it hasn't shipped in the past. It is declared this month that it will take at least two more months. And then next month, since it still wouldn't have shipped (assuming you are right), then it is once again declared to be at least 2 months away. Same thing for the following month.

It's like the song: "tomorrow, you're always a day away".



May not. Or maybe any ONE of them doesn't, but in combination they are. But I remind you that you brought in the 90% as being acceptable for shipping, not me.



Well, some of them say they have restarted, reinstalled, etc. My point was just that even with a great app, some people have problems - and they blame the app. I have no doubt that WT knows they'll be some of that. But if you allow 10% problems on top of those unavoidable ones, that's a LOT. Also, almost all we have for now are anecdotal info - none of us is seeing the stuff WT sees. Finally, I never said 100%. In fact, I pointed out that those kinds of problems are UNAVOIDABLE. Whether WT should ship if it is 1% may be arguable. But you covered 10 times that amount!

But even 1% is up to WT, balancing the pluses and minuses of doing so.


I can't understand why you're so invested in defending WT. They're not shipping to paid customers from a year and a half ago now. I've been watching this longer than you apparently. It's been since 03/2015 for me. Every month they don't ship makes it seem more absurd. Either it's a viable product with a hard ship date or it's not. When will it be long enough for you to think it's too long to wait? My thinking is two years. Maybe you don't get this because you've had one to play with for a few months.

Arguing about percentages is a waste of time when only WT knows the real numbers involved. Are there real problems gating shipping or not?

No one needs a time machine to see the pattern of how they continue to gate shipping. They're not shipping in September because their process of manufacturing testing and evaluation and product redesign, product rework and product retesting and shipment to TREGers and evaluation and feedback and evaluation all take much longer than this. It's not opinion when it's borne out by facts, data and experience. It's your opinion that it will magically fly off the shelves to customers delivered by unicorns in September. Folks are tired of this.

NOT Typed on a TextBlade
Rating: 2 Votes
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