About a month ago now (mid-July, 2012), I received my very own Touchfire keyboard thingie for the iPad. I had backed this project on Kickstarter in order to be one of the first to get one since, as regular readers probably know, I type on my iPad. A lot. The project funded on December 13, 2011. It doesn’t take frickin’ Descartes to figure out that the elapsed time between my credit card being billed and my receiving the product was roughly seven months.
Shortly after my Touchfire arrived, the Elevation Dock arrived at my door. I’ll admit that this backing was more based on “wow, that looks cool” than “wow, I could really use the crap out of that”, but that’s neither here nor there. This project funded on February 11, 2012, so the elapsed time between paying and receiving was slightly shorter (but still considerable, I think).
This taught me a few things about Kickstarter as it relates to companies who want to sell a physical product that hasn’t been manufactured yet, but first I want to give some quick thoughts about the products themselves.
Of the two products mentioned, this one was the more underwhelming. I’ve used it a bit and it does make typing on the iPad easier, but it creates a sort of cognitive dissonance. It feels (somewhat) like a hardware keyboard in that there are little squares beneath my fingertips, but it’s (obviously) not. I’ve been touch-typing since forever and when my fingers rest on a keyboard, I can quickly forget it’s there and just type.
This isn’t really the case with the Touchfire. All is well if I’m just typing “regular words”, but I’m constantly reaching down for the ⌘, ⌥ and ⌃ keys (like I do when typing on a Mac). In other words, my own efficiency with a regular keyboard is a hinderance to effectively using the Touchfire.
Of course, this would probably be rectifed after spending a sufficient amount of time with the Touchfire, but that’s my initial impression.
Other thoughts, in no particular order:
- The Touchfire doesn’t hug the iPad magnets quite as strongly as I thought it would. It’s super easy to dislodge it from the screen or for it to quietly creep up a half-inch or so (and causing mistyped characters).
- The magnetic dinguses (dingii?) that attach by adhesive to the Smart Cover feel pretty chintsy, as does the whole “roll it up with your Smart Cover when not in use” business. I just keep the Touchfire in the case when I think I might need it. Speaking of the case…
- The case pretty much sucks. Getting the Touchfire (which wants to unfurl naturally) to stay put while closing the case is frustrating.
I don’t mean to totally crap on the Touchfire, honestly. They embarked on a difficult problem couched in a whole mess of constraints, so it’s unfair to dismiss it as a half-assed effort (except for the case — that could have been done much better).
Aside from suffering from a serious amount of what I’ll call “interest attrition”—more on that in a second— the Elevation Dock delivers on its sales pitch (mostly):
- It’s every bit as hefty as you’d imagine by looking at the pitch video. It feels quite substantial. Me likey that part.
- Swapping out the shorter USB cable for the longer one using the included Allen wrench and instructions was simple. My only niggle here is that you get awfully close to the guts and, in the hands of somebody with more enthusiasm than understanding, the chances of turning the thing into a costly aluminum brick are good.
- My iPhone 4S slides out almost effortlessly. When I first set the Elevation Dock up on my desk, it would lift slightly off of the desk when I undocked my device and drop back down (not unlike the “other docks” vilified in their pitch video). Either my iPhone or the Dock itself seems to have worn a groove since this no longer happens, thankfully.
My only real issue with the Elevation Dock is—and, really, it’s a small one—is with the insertion of my iPhone into the Dock. It doesn’t slide in quite as easily as in the video, and you have to give it a little nudge to seat it properly. Hardly worth mentioning, I know, but there you go.
Kickstarter’s Interest Attrition Problem
With each of the two Kickstarter projects described above, I was a lot less excited about the product a couple of months after handing over my money. I don’t think this is uncommon, either.
Going back to the Kickstarter page and watching the pitch videos again did help revitalize my interest in the products as they got closer to shipping, but between the various production setbacks affecting them, I still found myself wishing I hadn’t spent the dough.
With that, I give you my Kickstarter Potential Backer’s Mental Checklist:
- Remember that, unless the wheels really fall off, you’ll be able to order the item once it starts shipping to backers. In other words, you’re probably not dealing with a “limited time offer”.
- Know that, when dealing with physical products that aren’t yet being manufactured, you’re going to be waiting awhile for the thing that you are considering supporting.
- If the project you’re thinking of backing has already wildly exceeded its funding goal, you’re probably going to wait even longer. Aside from it simply taking more time to produce 25,000 widgets than 1,000 widgets, these projects will often experience delays in material procurement, tooling and other manufacturing minutiae.
- For me, novelty and excitement have been key elements in my decision to support Kickstarter projects. Neither of these hold up well over time.
The Nature of Kickstarter
In many cases, Kickstarter projects are fueled as much by faith as by backer dollars. Most of these folks don’t know for sure if they’ll be able to hit their manufacturing and delivery goals, but they’re making the most educated guess they can. A lot of the time, though, it’s not unlike discovering a problem with your airplane shortly after takeoff that you must fix while in the air. Setbacks are to be expected — you just need to make sure that you, the backer, have the stomach for them.