The Hunt! A keyboard story

Like some on this board, I’ve been into computers for many, many years. I started programming whe the Atari 400 was a thing, with its membrane keyboard. As such, I never really paid that much attention to keyboard ‘feel’, as I had to work with really bad at times due to necessity. I will say though that keyboard layout is something that I have taken issue with.

As a transplant from the U.S. to Japan, swapping to Japanese keyboards can be quite frustrating, with their extra keys, variable sized space bar (to fit extra keys), different shift layouts/etc. I’ve been quite frustrated with bad layouts, but often just remapped the layout to the standard US layout, ignoring other keys.

Some years ago I came across the textblade. This was when I was enamored with the idea of the Optimus Maximus and the beeraider keyboards, for their gimmicks, strange layouts, and promises of better efficiency. Fortunately, I never bought in to their claims or promises. Instead, I simply stuck with the normal keyboards that came with my office PCs (I was in the practice of building all of my home PCs, other than my Macs, and went with bargain-basement keyboards for those).
I’d end up using something like this:


Or on my Mac, I’d use:

In addition to programming, I (gasp) game a bit. Over time I became convinced that I was in need of a better keyboard for gaming, thinking that was the extent of why I’d need a better keyboard.
I picked up a Razer Orbweaver (no pic as I gave it away last night), but quickly realized it did not really enhance my gaming sessions in any way, so I left it on the shelf for years.

Moving on, I picked up a mechanical gaming keyboard… all the buzz words:

For a time it was good… but it lacked something… Though it had profiles and things, it wasn’t exactly what I was after… I realized that after over 40 years of computer use, I really wanted more from my keyboard.

I re-visited the alternative keyboard styles I looked at a couple of years ago and realized that the thing I was after was the flexibility that the textblade offered, so I ordered after realizing that the wait might be a bit before it would come. The problem was that I now had the bug. The itch. The desire for that flexibility.

I poured over websites, forums and the like to try to find what I could fill the void with. It looked like programmable mechanical keyboards were the answer. The only problem was that I have have keyboards, and didn’t want to get another, expensive one, just to add programmability. Enter this device:


I built a couple myself, but also picked up a pre-made one. It was QMK on a stick. This converts almost any keyboard into a programmable one. Stuck it on my mechanical keyboard and it worked… somewhat. Wait, what’s that? NKRO? Something my nice mechanical keyboard doesn’t have. The ability to press any/all keys and have them all register (useful for stenography and plover). So out comes:

That is a super cheap NKRO compatible keyboard I happened to have lying around. It works for stenography… but that keyboard feel! Yes, I did start with membrane keyboards and never really had a problem, but after a stint with a mechanical keyboard… that mushy feeling was absolutely terrible. So what to do? The only thing one can do…

Going back to the layout of the TextBlade, I really wanted to reduce finger travel time, add in nice keyboard feel, and maintain the programmability. So I searched for what was available, and found this:


Compact, really nice feeling, programmable. ALMOST everything I could look for in a filler keyboard until the TextBlade. But there was that one more thing.

Notice how the TextBlade’s keys are angled. When getting used to the ortholinear layout, I really felt that the lack of angle was something I wanted to address… So back to the search. I looked around, trying to find something that would hit many of the ideals of what I wanted. I found this beauty:


Not in production right now, and in a bit of demand, so I had to buy it second-hand. It arrived with the switch on one of the keys broken, so I had to order and replace that switch.
Was this the be-all and end all of filler keyboards till the TextBlade. In a word: No.
Though you do get the ability to angle to how you’d like, the fixed key spacing on the staggered rows is not quite right for my finger lengths (TextBlade allows for adjustment in the setup software). Also, there are reach issues with the key distances. As such my daily driver is the little Planck I picked up before that one. With it, I’ve gotten faster at typing than I ever was on a conventional keyboard, and have no issues making use of layers instead of dedicated keys.

So, my hunt has taken me places. Many places. In fact to these places:

There is one place I am still waiting for it to take me:

Oh, sorry… that place hasn’t arrived yet.

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Jarius - a most excellent story, and great reflection on the ‘why’ of keyboard architecture.

Your empty space shall get filled with a TextBlade, and you’ll find that everything you like about Planck is in there, and more, but without the extra labor of the longer reach of legacy designs.

The long struggle in the chronology of keyboard evolution, and all the litany of unmet needs, are why we created TextBlade.

The disruptive merits of TextBlade’s new multitouch key paradigm, are why we have put so much effort into it, and why we have patented the hell out of it. It truly does outperform legacy platforms, and is much needed.

We look forward to what you write, typing on TextBlade.

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For some inexplicable reason, the story above evokes memories of reading Dr. Seuss to our kids, and in particular, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

Looking at the photos of other efforts, and the innumerable frustrations in keyboard history described in Jarius’ story, we are reminded of the bumpy road that technology often takes.

And why, when something is worth doing, notwithstanding all the challenges … you do it.

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I really like that connection and imagery.

When TextBlade comes out, it will be like how this smartphone came out in 2007 and actually lived up to the moniker “smart phone”.

Here’s how that company released 7 generations:

  1. Ship a beautiful aluminum one, but without GPS or 3G
  2. Add GPS and 3G, but take away aluminum and go with plastic.
  3. Add high res display. Undo plastic and go wit stainless steel, but sharp edges.
  4. Follow up with an actually usable processor.
  5. Switch back to aluminum, but sharp edges. Try plastic again but who is surprised that flopped?
  6. Speed up, add TouchID
  7. Finally go back to rounded aluminum.
  8. … but then follow add an actually usable processor.

It took them 8 years (well, 2.5 more if you believe their former founder) to perfect it. And they have. They got “rounded aluminum” spot-on from the get-go, so no idea why they made us open our wallets to pay for their experiments in years 2 through 7.

Unlike that really big company that sold you 7 years of point devices, WayTools is going to Think Different:

Their first General Availability version will have:

  • the hardware you want. (They did their homework, and confirmed with users.) Everywhere you read, the key feel is amazing. The keys are durable.
  • great performance and great battery life. (They rewrote all the software to make it happen.)
  • options to expand it without throwing away and replacing. Want wired mode? You can add that!
  • a battery you can change yourself. (Or if you prefer to bring nice beer, or maybe burgers and milkshakes for two - that’s in the ballpark of what it will cost for them to change it for you.)

They are so unlike the other big company, and in the best way possible.

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Sort of… I mean, with the “other company”’ end users did have something to use for the intervening 7 years, too…

Sure, it was not as good as the end product. But for (much/most of) the 7 years, it was better than anything out there.

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Tholo - That’s true about Apple, but there’s kind of a philosophical difference here.

We bought 7 versions of those iPhones over 7 years, because they fixed what broke, so we were anxious to get the next one.

Apple made a lot of profit from those enthusiastic annual repeat-purchasers, but those folks did spend about 5 grand to get through the iPhone teething period.

By contrast, Tesla held Model S back for several years. They knew they had to get it pretty perfect with the first model, in order to overcome long running bias from gas car owners.

The first Model S we got was a revelation. Best in class on all fronts - acceleration, smoothness, fuel economy, safety. It was a long wait, but so worth it. Most satisfying purchase ever.

7 years after, we still have those original Model S’s, and they actually perform better than the day we got them.

OTA updates have increased its range, made it faster, added lots of new functions to the instrument screen, and improved the ui. The same car is truly way better than it was at delivery. This is the first car to ever do this, and owners love it.

Tesla knew their EV platform was intrinsically better, so they invested in a robust software foundation that let them rapidly evolve the product, responsive to initial owners.

Those owners then became the enthusiastic advocates for the car. Tesla doesn’t spend a nickel on advertising - it all goes into engineering. This is quite unconventional, but it has vaulted them up to become the most valuable automaker in the world. It’s an historic disruption of an entire industry.

So they may have looked slow at the start, but their solid-foundation strategy worked, and their brand is now the envy of all others.

The keyboard market is much narrower than cars, but the Tesla playbook virtues still apply to other disruptive products, and still inform what we see as the smartest strategy.

The new software foundation we’re completing now is central to mass fulfillment of the demand for better touch typing.

The fact that customers get all the TextBlade extra R&D upside for a single $99 purchase - that’s our choice, and that embodies our ethics.

Maybe we could have booked more profit by selling serial, half-baked revs, but Tesla chose not to, and they are creaming the competition with the goodwill this has earned them.

We think this lesson is portable to our space, and it’s why we chose this path.

The virtues of this course will be more obvious when you’re enjoying the benefits.

A lot of people cast doubt upon Tesla along the way.

They don’t now.

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When you let go of convention, all of the interesting things become posssible.

A retrospective of the humbling failures, and triumphant successes of Tesla / SpaceX.

Compiled and set to music by a Danish fan and blogger.

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I agree with most of what you wrote, but the above sounds a bit exaggerated! I mean, I had a 3G (didn’t want the first one because I figured “Edge” would be terribly slow). But that was the only reason.

Then I got the 4, 5, 6, 6S, X, and 11.

While certainly things got “fixed”, I never once thought I was buying a newer phone because of something being broken before. Rather it was because it was faster and could do new things, or a better camera (not replacing a “broken” camera!).

You’ve posted that the new firmware will handle 12 jump slots instead of the present 6. Well, I don’t consider “only” having 6 to be a broken system! But I’ll sure like having 12!

The addition of more boundaries didn’t mean the lower number of boundary options was “broken”. Granted, it would have required more work on my part to adjust if the keyboard couldn’t, but nothing is perfect. Just like I still think I’d like to be able to set the angle of the key blades to be less. Maybe the angle you have is considered ideal - for most. But I’m not “most”. I’ve typed on keys with no angle at all until getting the TB. At my age, is it really the best solution to have to change years after retirement? But I don’t consider your approach to be “broken”, though I’d sure like some flexibility there. Especially since most of my errors tend to be with my pinkies hitting too low for the top row. Fortunately, I don’t make a lot of errors. But they are the most common.

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Dbk - to be sure, each successive version of iPhone could do more than the last, but there were also some issues with early models. From memory -

iPhone 1 - aluminum case would dent easily, 2G data was barely useable

iPhone 3G - plastic case shell would routinely crack, head proximity sensor isssues

iPhone 4 - antennagate, attenuation of signal by contact of hands to steel perimeter band

iPhone 5 - cracking of front cover glass around fingerprint sensor

iPhone 6 - bendgate, cover glass cracking

… etc

We don’t regret buying any of those models, they were all wonderful advances.

But for example, if you had a 3G model and the curved shell had cracked, you were all the more motivated to get the newer flat steel and glass iPhone 4 model.

So each one had new features and performance to look forward to, as well as some bugaboos we needed cleared up.

Notwithstanding, we certainly wouldn’t fault Apple, under Steve Jobs second stint, for making unsatisfying products.

But definitely releasing an all-new model each year was a very demanding schedule, and often problematic details would surface in the first few months of release.

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The other difference is that Apple did have a lot of money and already several product lines. In fact too many product lines and had to simplify to about 4 main ones. (I know, Apple employees say, “back then we didn’t have a lot of money”, but that’s with 4 bn in the bank.)

The original iPhone was intended to capture 1% of the mobile market (source: SJ on-stage). But I think the TextBlade market could vary wildly - it could be small, or it could be huge (every phone, tablet, notebook, and desktop user). And notwithstanding the fact that humans simply take a long time to get used to awesome (iPhone market share took many years to hit 30%), the difference is that TextBlade could hit that without making its initial buyers take the hit.

I’m over this whole consumerism, replace-my-phone-even-though-it-works-fine. The thing is, that’s because at some point, iPhones just got good enough that you could rock a 3 year old model and miss out on nothing. I mean, I don’t play AR-enhanced games, so I don’t care for the new. I could just swap the battery every 3 years and be happy for a long time.

And isn’t releasing a great v1.0, like Tesla did, better for everyone? (And the planet?)

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Colinng - that’s the notion. A good V1 release reduces lots of cost, carbon, and heartache.

It’s a harder thing to prove-out, but the prize is huge, and not widely understood.

More companies should try it, and the planet will much be better off.

———————

At some point solving consumer problems, yielded to selling them more widgets, for profit.

That created a dichotomy between the interests of consumers and the manufacturers that serve them.

Interestingly, Tesla’s autopilot AI software has the express aim of reducing the number of cars needed to move all of us around comfortably and efficiently.

Tesla has no compunction about reducing demand for cars through technological disruption.

It’s another way to achieve the mission of accelerating the transition to sustainable energy.

There are plenty of ways to make lots of money helping people kick wasteful and expensive habits, while bringing them greater happiness in the process.

You don’t need 4 lbs of keyboard, when 1.5 oz works even better.

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Colin - You might consider how your glowing praise of Waytools appears to those of us who have been mistreated by them…

They delivered you and the other TREG winners what we all purchased; but have refused to send them to all of us customers.

Sure, Apple has hubris, but when has Apple ever taken someone’s money in an online purchase and then refused to deliver the product (which has been shown to work just fine by people such as you) for OVER 5 YEARS.

The “just wait, it will be worth it” started getting old at year 3…

@waytools No refund please, I just want my TextBlade. My shipping address on the order is still current.

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SamuraiJack - we understand how it may feel for you, but the context matters here.

Preordering is a personal choice. There’s no forcing or refusing done by anyone.

If waiting bothers you, you can easily choose to take your money back. You control that, not us.

If you choose to help us, your preorder makes it go quicker, and is greatly appreciated.

Regarding the several hundred treg units already shipped to customers, this benefits everyone.

It is better to ship some people, and work through any details that are learned, than to hold back all shipments, and rely only on our own finite in-house test data. Treg has significantly advanced the technology.

Field data from real world customers is the gold standard, which is why we are using it.

If a test group is too large, you cannot provide the level of support and scrutiny needed to actually understand individual issues and fix them. There is a sweet spot, an ideal fleet size for the most productive trial phase. That’s the goal, and we think we‘ve got it about right.

Finally, for all those who chose to help by preordering, their goodwill will be reciprocated.

That is fair, and as it should be.

For all those who’ve helped, thank you!

Because of you, this important need has a champion, working hard to make it widely available.

By contrast, big tech tries to repeatedly milk profits from users for years. They play to their chronic frustration with an unmet need, instead of actually fulfulling the need.

Besides our continually increasing patent rights, a major reason big players haven’t stepped to supply a good solution is that … they don’t want to.

Too many legacy products, like expensive heavy laptops, quickly become obsolete once there’s a superior universal keyboard that works with tablets, phones and everything else.

Our treg phase has not only validated the machine, it has validated the profound latent demand.

No one else works to serve this need, because it’s clear it will disrupt their legacy revenues.

But this is an important need to fulfill on a mass scale, and that is our mission.

Best in class software architecture is the crucial foundation to wide release of this technology.

No one else is even trying.

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Sure. But.

At the time most of us did pre-order we were also promised delivery within the next few months. And for some of us that was many years (and in my case, delivery addresses) ago.

Tholo - folks who want their goody may understandably conflate estimates with promises, and unforeseen challenges with knowledge aforethought.

Ascribing bad intent may give fleeting emotional gratification. But if it’s not true, you just get steamed on your own narrative, instead of objectively understanding what’s really happening. It won’t help, or make you feel better.

The best way for all of us to get to happy is to be fair with one another, work hard, and get to the finish line quicker. Guilt trips and false assertions just distract and slow it down. They don’t help you get it faster.

If you believed what you wrote, vote with your pocketbook and don’t obsess about it . If your comment was more about how you feel than what you really believe, then let go of the negative thoughts. Take encouragement that someone actually champions this cause, so this new tech will be brought to you.

We don’t wish to tell anyone how to feel. We just don’t want to be silent if someone talks themselves into discouragement. There’s so many good reasons for optimism.

I never meant to imply that the intent was to not deliver promptly.

Financially this does not actually mean much to me – I’d dearly love to have a GR (or even TREG) unit in hand, however. :stuck_out_tongue: As I have mentioned elsewhere in the past, I have had my hands on an engineering sample, so I do know it is a real product. I am just a little bit impatient?

We understand. We’re working efficiently during this weird pandemic period.

The TextBlade you get will be more than the version you played with.