So, in this post I’m going to cover quite a bit. You are forewarned that this is going to get long with many pictures. I’ll cover unboxing, my first impressions, my call with Mark Knighton, the theory of TREG selection,the recent hardware issues, what is really being accomplished by TREG, what is gating general release, apps and app ports to other OSs beyond iOS, engineering, materials and whatever else I think of. I will be honest and straightforward and try to convey as much information as possible. I am not going to try to fit it into sections or categories. I’ll just weave it all into the narrative as I go. There is a TREG agreement that needs to be adhered to, so there are some things that I will not be able to discuss. When possible, I will let you know when we get near one of those things.
My TREG unit arrived yesterday 4/13 via FedEx.
Some have commented that this was fast. I guess it was with respect to how long it took for the initial wave of testers to receive theirs. Though, what you probably do not know is that just like the first wave of TREG, this wave was actually held up a bit by a hardware issue. That was the “subtle hardware issue” that WayTools posted about. What actually happened is one of the testers had reported a particular issue related to twisting the key blades around and affecting their connections (just trying to provide the gist of the issue here. I don’t remember all the details). The area we are talking about is the silver metallic area where the two KeyBlades come together. The original reported issue was corrected in software, but while WayTools was working on the issue and testing the fix, they realized that there could be an issue with an insulator. They worked the weekend and were able to devise and implement a fix. This is really indicative of the effort and dedication that WayTools has put into this product. They may not always communicate in the best manner, but that does not mean they are not working hard to make a great product. I am mentioning this hardware issue up front in this post because some have commented about this round of TREG testing not being valid because there are still hardware issues and that the TREG units might not have all the modifications and that those they do have would not be consistent with other units coming off the production lines. All of the recent hardware issues have been solved by modifications in final assembly process/procedures, so there really is nothing to be concerned about in that respect. The modification for this last issue, from what I recall Mark telling me, involved lifting up the metal cap, replacing the insulator and replacing the cap. A pretty simple operation. Think about those phone repair kiosks in the malls that replace cracked screens while you wait. That is far more involved. To ease everyone’s concerns even further, the TREG unit I received already has this modification (and the previous ones). Therefore, that latest hardware issue has already been resolved and can be tested as part of this round of TREG.
So, back to the FedEx package. Inside the envelope was a white padded envelope. and inside that was a very nice, very sturdy box protected by a set of white plastic (compostable vegetable based) trusses to protect the corners of the box. Mark spent a good amount of time during our call talking about materials, packaging, and engineering. WayTools is concerned about the environmental impact of their packaging and their products. The box is designed to be compact, yet sturdy. This saves on jet fuel during shipment and shows the attention to detail that they have (I’m not really doing justice to the conversation here, but I think you get the point). My shipment actually had a bit of an anomaly and as far as Mark knew it was the first time it had ever happened. I think it is ok to share since it is not a major issue and shows how the packaging actually did it’s job. In the pictures, you will notice that when I opened the box, I found the nano charger stuck to the top of the TextBlade, though the TextBlade was sitting proudly where it should be. When it left WayTools, the nano charger was stowed in the SpaceBlade. Normally to expel the nano charger from the SpaceBlade you have to tap it pretty good on your hand. So, it seems that someone at FedEx must have given the package a pretty good tap. But, the packaging did what it was suppose to do and arrived in pristine condition. Because the initial user experience is an important aspect for WayTools, they will look into it and make sure that it does not happen again. You will also notice that I have obscured the text on the inside lid of the box. This is one of those TREG agreement moments. We were asked not to reveal the text as it contains information about the early adopter gift. I can say that I think everyone will be pleased with the gift.
Moving on to more pictures, I am trying to include some angles that have not been shown before. The TREG units shipped with a couple of extra butterflies. These will not be included in the normal packaging, but were included to allow TREG testers to see how they fit together and the level of detailed engineering that went into their construction. I must say that it is very impressive that a device as small as the TextBlade packs in so much technology. Every aspect of this device has been engineered. Everything has a function and purpose. The KeyBlades are actually designed to flex. They are built on a polycarbonate substrate. The circuitry is designed to bend along with it. Look at one of the profile shots. In a package not much bigger than the compressed keys, they have fit a computer (processor), all the sensors and the magnetically dampened butterflies. The SpaceBlade actually contains two computers, the bluetooth radio, the battery, storage for the nano charger and the mechanism that actuates the space key. The SpaceBlade was designed to be stiff, hence the steel plate on the bottom. One of the things I noticed was that the SpaceBlade is actually slanted and does not depress like the other keys. WayTools tested many different designs and settled on this one. From the various versions that Mark talked about, I would say they made a good choice. Not only does it facilitate the connection with the KeyBlades, it matches well with the thumb motion used to press it. It also supports storing the nano charger, which a design like the KeyBlades would not. One other thing he talked about was water. The TextBlade is not as susceptible to water damage as a phone would be, but because it uses capacitive sensors, it does not work well when there is water on or under the keys. It blinds the sensors. He said just wipe it off and tap it on your leg to force the water out. Also, if it happens to be sea water, then rinse it with fresh water first.
After I got it out of the box and took a bunch of pictures, the next thing I did was fire it up and pair it to my phone and try it out. This went pretty well as I had learned from the other testers that it was not necessary to hold the space down (normally used to activate the green layer) while entering the pairing code. Speeding through pairing, I was pleasantly surprised that I could actually type pretty well right away. Not perfect by any means, but much better than I expected. I would say the biggest issues I have had is in finding where certain things have been implemented. Another thing that I am still getting use to is using a specific shift key. For example, to type a capitol P, you have to use the left shift. Alternatively, WayTools has implemented a sticky shift, similar to on screen keyboards, so you can use the right shift, but you have to press the shift and release it and then press the P. The next thing I wanted to try was to pair to my MacBook Pro. Because I have an older one, I need to use a Bluetooth dongle to provide 4.0 support. The hardest part of pairing to the MacBook was getting it to use the dongle instead of the built-in Bluetooth. The trick to this, for others that may be facing the same issue, is to turn off Bluetooth, insert the dongle, and then turn Bluetooth back on. I did have a dilemma. I had paired my phone, but I had not picked a Jumps slot when I paired it. I asked the other testers if anyone knew whether it defaults to the first slot or not. No one seemed to know, so I just went ahead and paired the MacBook to the second slot. You do that by holding down the Jumps chord for the second slot until the LEDs on the SpaceBlade show the slot. There are 10 LEDs and 6 Jumps slots. WayTools has used the center six to identify the slots, so all the LEDs will be lit up except for the one that represents the slot you are accessing. Then the LEDs will do a wave pattern from the center out. This indicates it is ready to be paired. Choose the TextBlade in the Bluetooth preferences and enter the code on the TextBlade same as with the phone. This is a great feature and WayTools has spent a great deal of effort to get it right. It works very well. In the future it will only get better as they add the ability to swap key maps as well.
I have noticed as I type this post that I seem to be making a few more mistakes today than I did yesterday. I think this is probably the position I am in. I have the TextBlade on my custom keyboard cover on my MacBook all on my lap. I’m reaching a bit further than before, so consequently I keep typing “.” instead of “l” and “x “instead of “s” (US QWERTY layout). I think that means that my hands are more straight and so my fingers are not really over the home row wells. So a lesson learned there is that typing position will probably play a larger role in accurate typing than on a traditional keyboard. I have also noticed that I need to break my bad habit of using my left index finger for hitting the y. While I am talking about typing, I think I may have said this in another post, but I think the TextBlade may be a little easier for us hunt and peck leaning typists than the touch typists among us, at least at first. We have less to relearn.
Many people have been asking what are we getting out of TREG and why don’t they just ship? Well, I’ll try to answer that. Let me start with a theory of TREG selection. I always wondered how WayTools was able to figure out who should be selected for TREG. In talking with Mark, I can say that in my case the letter I wrote them played a large part. In the letter I told them about my experience and a bit about myself. Well, they liked that and Mark specifically liked the craftsmanship in the flutes I make. He is a fan of wood and finely crafted things. Mark also mentioned that there was quite a bit of volume testing that was done with their partners before TREG and with all that testing none of the recent hardware issues showed up. So that is one somewhat unexpected thing that has come out of TREG. In TREG I think they are looking to get input from a vast set of users with different use cases. Mark said there are technical and non technical people. There are engineers. There are individuals with RSI and other challenges. He talked about military users sticking the TextBade to a steel surface and how they had to engineer it to work on such surfaces. He also mentioned again that the forum makes up a very small percentage of their customers. They try to call as many of the TREG testers as they can and I think Mark likes to talk to those from the forum personally. So really what TREG is doing for them is providing some real world feedback outside of test plans and lab conditions. I think it is a bit of the forrest and trees thing. They have been so focused on building a strong yet flexible platform that they may have missed some of the things that people come to expect from a keyboard. For example, up until a few days ago, the only way to type numbers on the TextBlade was across the top of the green layer. You could always define your own key map, but the out of the box experience seemed to be lacking. The testers requested a num lock like feature and in short order WayTools added a more traditional num pad layer. Other examples come from exploring other key maps. For example, when testers started using Dvorak key maps, they realized that they were inadvertently triggering the chords for certain modifiers/macros during normal typing. You might be wondering why that might be. Well, the chords were chosen and the detection “algorithms” were set based on how people type on QWERTY layouts. So when using a Dvorak key mapping, you end up with key combinations that are not typical for QWERTY and coincide with those chords. WayTools was able to make software adjustments and fix the issue. So, TREG is helping to transform the TextBlade from a blank slate into the picture of a keyboard that users expect.
Some may say, well that is all fine and good, but can’t they just stop adding features and just ship me the keyboard? They can add that stuff with an OTA update. Well, sure. They could do that. They could have taken a nod from the car industry and just shipped last year and then either deny issues or issue recalls. That may work in that industry, but it doesn’t work in this one. They know that the future of the TextBlade hinges on the initial user experience. They are looking to change the way people use keyboards, which is an uphill battle to begin with. If they released a device that was seen as not working or not even providing the functionality of other keyboards, there would be no chance.
So, what is really gating general release? Mark told me it is hardware. They want to be sure they have found the issues. Then they need to apply the changes. I took this to mean that they have not applied the changes to their inventory. He mentioned that at one point the inventory was enough to fill all the orders. I’m not sure if that is still the case. If they haven’t applied any of the changes, that is a good thing for those that were thinking the same units were being modified multiple times. The modifications will take some time. I was not able to get an answer of how long, but I think that if no other hardware issues are identified (Mark seemed to agree with me that most everything has been covered), they will start that process soon and ramp up release. I’m sorry that this is still vague, but that is the best I could do. Hopefully I have provided a better understanding of what is happening.
Finally, the app. Another topic on my call was to go over some of the features of the app that were added for TREG. The agreement prevents me from talking about specifics, but in general they are things that TREG testers can use to get a better understanding of what is happening in the TextBlade. They also facilitate communications and sending information to WayTools. Mark said that some of these things will live on, possibly in a slightly different format, into the released version and allow customers to communicate issues. I also got the impression that TREG may continue as a program for improving the product after general release. I also asked about when we may see an app for other platforms and Mark gave a pretty good answer. I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but it went something like this. When you are developing an app you want to be sure that you have all the functionality in place before you port it to another platform. So, that basically means that I would not expect to see an app for another platform until after general release. I think this may be a point that some have gotten wrong in the past and thought it was after the release of the app itself. I think there are still areas of the app that need to be fleshed out (e.g. customer communications) before they will port to another platform.
Several hours after I started writing this, I think I am about out of topics. If I have missed anything you wanted to know about, speak up and I will see what I can do to get an answer. Thank you.
I will close with I love the TextBlade and will be carrying it with me everywhere I go. I still have to work through some Bluetooth issues with my work laptop, but I eventually hope to use it for everything.
One last thing. The picture with the two nano stands next to each other shows the difference between the regular and XL stands. Not much. 0.7mm