I received my TB yesterday - I was away when it arrived, so it took a bit longer before I could lay my hands on this semi-mythical beast we have so eagerly been expecting, but few of us have actually seen.
Unboxing was interesting and exciting. Enough TREGgers before me have made pictures and described the process so I won't go into all the details here. The most striking to me was the size of the box as it came out of the envelope and free of its protective padding. It is hard to believe such a tiny, flat package can actually contain a fully functional keyboard. Many accessories I have come with chargers that are larger than this whole box!
The box is very well-presented and easy to open. Taking out the TB brings the next surprise: its weight. The box is heavier than it looks because of the steel plate used to keep the TB firmly in place during shipping. But once free of its metal protection the device itself is almost alarmingly light. For a moment it felt more like a cereal box surprise toy than the high-tech marvel it actually is.
Prying the three separate blades apart, however, and letting them magnetically lock onto each other, automatically activating the device, quickly dispels the toy-like first impression. This is serious tech, meant for serious business, is what it's design radiates. It invites exploration and makes one want to sit down and write something.
Which brings up the first hurdle. For a keyboard to work it needs to talk to a computer, tablet, or phone. But the TB doesn't contain any obvious clues as to how it connects to anything other than itself. There is no button or switch marked 'connect' or 'bluetooth' and there is nothing on the box either. I know this is not yet the final product, so it's quite likely that future packaging will contain some kind of 'getting started' instructions. But right now the only clue is a link to the videos on the WayTools website and those are not immediately helpful for a first-time user. Looking at the first experience through the eyes of a completely new customer, just coming home after picking a TB up from the local WayTools store, say, setting the TB up for first usage should be a no-brainer, not a hurdle. So, Mark, if you are reading this, I hope you have something in mind that makes first-time linking the TB as easy and exciting as unboxing it.
Fortunately, through my long-time presence on the forum, and the helpful comments by many TREGgers, I had a fairly good idea of what to do to get started. When you know the process, it is actually very easy. Press the two keys corresponding to the jump-slot you want your device to be linked to, wait for the blinking light on the spaceblade, and then type in the code appearing on the screen. Without having to think about how to get to the green numbers on the TB - it's in numlock mode, apparently, when pairing. Surprisingly simple for an initiate of the inner circle, but absolutely in need of some very clear instructions for any novice.
I found no issues pairing all 3 of my Apple devices: 2012 MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iPhone 6S Plus - as I get older I tend to go for bigger screens . I still have to get to pairing with my Lenovo ThinkPad, but I am on the road again, and my Lenovo is only used for work-related admin, never for travel, so that will have to wait.
Once paired the million-dollar question then was: how does it type? Can I just hammer away from the word go, or is there going to be a learning curve? I had just over an hour before the welcome call with Mark, so I wanted to have at least some sense of the ease of using a TB compared to a normal keyboard.
The answer is: it's complicated and even slightly confusing. At moments everything goes fine and I am happily typing away, almost as fast (or slow) as I would be on other keyboards, then all of a sudden a whole lot of nonsense comes out and it takes a lot of looking and trying before I get what I am after. One of the major issues I am struggling with is finger placement and finger selection. Never having learned to touch-type, but over time adopting a self-developed, rather erratic multi-finger approach to typing, I find the TB far less forgiving of random finger placement than my other keyboards. You really are supposed to hit each key with the right finger each time. With my old sloppy habits I would have to rely heavily on the autocorrect function, and that's not on. No, this is going to be a bit of a challenge. I will be typing very slowly for a while, making sure to hit each key with the right finger. I will have to experiment with hand positions and finger movements. But I am hopeful it's going to be worth it.
Why? Because of a number of different reasons.
First of all, when I do find the right position and have a stretch of successful characters I can feel how much more efficient this keyboard is to type on than you're average wide-spaced one. All it takes is slight movements of the fingers, and soft touches for the keyboard to respond. The ergonomic principles underlying its design shine through, even when typing clumsily. How much better it is going to be when I gain proficiency I can only guess, but it sure feels promising.
The second reason is the TB's versatility and multi-layered functionality. This is not just a keyboard, this is also a navigation interface, a user-interface, and a programmable editing tool rolled into one. Sure, its compactness and layering presents the user with a steeper learning curve than a straightforward keyboard, but the layout and structuring of the various functions follows a strict logic that aids the learning process. A few hours now into using the TB I am already comfortably using the editing functions, the modkeys, some of the iOS and MacOS navigation functions, the jumps, the numeric keypad, and most of the special characters. And that is while I am much more concentrating on getting the typing right than anything else.
In my next post I may relate a bit of my conversation with Mark and the impression he gave me about his passion for this (and other) products and what that may mean for the future of WayTools as a company. For those who assume or fear the TextBlade is an elaborate hoax and money-making scheme, I can only say that Mark doesn't seem to care about money at all. All he talked about was the long road to making this the keyboard they envisioned from the start: the keyboard to surpass anything that has ever come before. For Waytools/Mark this is about re-designing the user input side of mobile computing from scratch, to maximize our use of the almost ethereal devices we use, not by weighing them down and sizing them up with clunky, decades old technology based on a centuries old design, but by creating something as smart and ethereal that complements and enhances those devices to their full potential.
I personally believe that Mark's passion is genuine. Why else would he spend close to 3 hours of his personal time talking me through the finer points of TB usage and design? I do think, however, that it is this same passion that has caused WayTools customers so much frustration and upset. When WayTools started selling the TB they must have felt the hard work had been done and what was left was fairly simple: turning the working prototype into a reliable and scalable manufacturing process. Not only did that turn out to be harder than they thought, when they started testing the end-result in real-life situations their passion for excellence began to work against them. Because the TB was conceived as something much more than just a keyboard they couldn't allow it to go to end-users functioning as just that. It had to be immaculate on many more levels, to meet their own excitement and espectations. There were also no pre-existing standards to measure success by; nothing comparable exists on the market today. So it took much longer than they would have expected at the start, because while they were ironing out kinks they also had to create the very standards to measure progress by and the equipment and processes to test against those standards.
Having said all that (and I am typing much more than needed because a) I am on a plane with not much else to do; and b) I want to become much better at typing on my TB), was it worth the wait and aggravation? Only when you see this as more than a simple mobile keyboard, for some occasional typing on the road. Treat the TB as a serious piece of kit, with a lot of potential and pleasant surprises, and you will find it is well worth the money and more than worth the wait. But you may have to put some work into getting to know it. I think that a proficiency in touch-typing will be an advantage, but even then some habits will need to be adjusted and relearned. But with a bit of perseverance I have already been able to type all of this post, after only a few hours of typing. Imagine how much better it's going to get when muscle-memory starts to form!
For the record-keepers: I was told I have the latest version of everything - lamination, keycaps, firmware, and nano-stand (the package also included two of the older nano-stands for comparison).
Typed on a TextBlade (really!) using an iPad Pro, sitting in an plane.