The Kickstarter program is fascinating to watch, as the premise of crowd-sourcing funding for new products is proving to be a viable alternative for new ideas to get to market. A good example of the business model was last year's TouchFire keyboard for the iPad. The folks behind the TouchFire set out to raise $10,000 to get the product to market, and ended up raking in over $200,000 to kick-start the enterprise. I was one of the "investors" who ponied up my money to preorder one of these innovative products. Like all the other investors, I am still waiting for the TouchFire to actually start shipping over three months after it was promised.
The TouchFire is one of those unique products that when you see it you wonder why nobody thought of it before. It is a simple physical keyboard that magnetically clips to the iPad, overlaying the onscreen touch keyboard. It turns the soft keyboard into a tangible keyboard for touch typists. Like many others, I got excited at the potential of the TouchFire during the funding period on Kickstarter.
The two inventors behind the TouchFire promised the first production run of the keyboards would ship by end of December last year if they got their $10,000 of funding. That implied the design process and production details were ready to go, the only missing piece of the puzzle the ten grand they were raising through Kickstarter.
They ended up raising over 20 times that amount, so those submitting a preorder for the TouchFire had every reason to expect their keyboard showing up quickly. Then the reality of the situation set in with a series of status updates by the folks behind the TouchFire, explaining why it wasn't quite ready for shipping.
The first update described in detail how much trouble the enterprise was having getting an Asian manufacturing agreement in place to produce the TouchFire. A lot of reasons were thrown out detailing how this plant couldn't handle it and that plant couldn't meet the needs of the manufacturing process. The new shipping date was then pushed back to the end of February, two months after promised in the fundraising process.
Subsequent updates indicated they were changing a basic design in the way the TouchFire attached to the iPad Smart Cover. The original design appealed to me in that the little keyboard could be clipped to the Smart Cover for transport. The new design eliminated the self-contained clip in favor of 3M adhesive pieces to attach the TouchFire to the cover. I corresponded with the TouchFire folks to make it clear I thought a radical design change was out of order, as it drastically changed the product folks has paid for. The response I received indicated that testers were concerned the original design wouldn't work, so they felt they had to change it.
A new update yesterday brings us up-to-date with the news that the TouchFire is still not in production yet. They are having various difficulties getting the process working to produce them in production volume, but they hope to have that resolved real soon now. They tempered the news of yet another delay with excited information of the clip design changes. The update concluded with the information that they will let us all know when they will start shipping when they have a better idea.
Meanwhile the next iPad is to be announced this week, so the TouchFire may be obsolete before it is even shipping. Those of us waiting to get the product we paid for last year, may not be able to use it if we upgrade to the new iPad.
I understand how difficult it is for the little guy to bring a product like the TouchFire to market. The purpose of this article is not to bash these guys, rather to warn those who might be considering investing in future Kickstarter products. It's a tough game to play, so buyer beware.