Update #13 to President's Message
June 16, 2011: Our shipment of AlphaGrips has finally arrived and the news is good. The vast majority passed our inspection, which is a HUGE improvement over prior shipments where we had a 10-20% rejection rate (we've been testing every unit to minimize the number of defective units that get shipped to customers).
The new optical trackball works well and, based on my experience with the sample units I've been testing over the last few months, the trackball should become even more responsive as it gets broken-in.
We've contacted prospective customers who asked to be notified when the shipment arrived and have now made the new AlphaGrips available for sale on our website and through resellers.
A significant aspect of our technology, use of the backside of a device for input, is beginning to catch on in the marketplace, albeit in a limited fashion. For example, both Motorola and Sony have designed handheld devices with touchpads on the back. We expect that as people become more comfortable with rear-surface input, our technology, which, in part, maximizes a user's capabilities in this regard, will become more mainstream. Our job is to hasten that timeline.
Update #12 to President's Message
April 2, 2010: After growing to 2,500 customers, our manufacturer, Sejin Electron, discontinued production of the iGrip Ergonomic Keyboard (a.k.a. AlphaGrip AG-5) due to issues with the mechanical trackball. We are waiting to receive and test a sample keyboard from Sejin which incorporates an optical trackball, which we expect will replace the AlphaGrip's mechanical trackball. We’ve tested a previous version and it didn't seem to be any faster than the mechanical trackball (which gets up to 1,000 DPI), but with fewer moving parts, the optical trackball should have a dramatically lower rejection rate and require less cleaning by the user.
I've been asked when we expect to produce a next generation, wireless AlphaGrip. We have three strategies to get there: 1. Continue to bootstrap the company until we generate enough earnings to plow back into developing an AG-6 (this is going to take awhile); 2. Convince an established company to produce an AG-6 under its own brand (this could take longer); 3. Convince angel or venture capital investors to fund development of the AG-6 (longer yet). We are making efforts on all three fronts, but cannot predict when or if we will succeed with any of them.
With regard to bootstrapping the business, if the optical trackball works well, we plan to restart production and capitalize on a licensing agreement which we recently entered into with one of the world's largest manufacturers of in-vehicle smartphone holders, Herbert Richter (HR). We will design retail packaging for the iGrip Ergo Keyboard and attempt to tap into HR's distribution network.
We also hope to work with HR to design a handheld holder for smartphones that incorporates AlphaGrip technology, thus enabling users to plug their smartphone into an iGrip Handheld Holder with high speed input capabilities, thus replacing their laptop.
I'll post the next update when we begin selling AlphaGrips again.
Update #11 to President's Message
October 02, 2008: We have been making slow but steady progress penetrating the keyboard and mouse market with the AlphaGrip Ergonomic Keyboard. To date, we’ve sold more than 2,000 Grips by word-of-mouth alone and have many satisfied customers.
One of the more gratifying aspects of the business is that a number of our customers say that the AlphaGrip is the most ergonomic input device they have ever used. Based on significant anectodal evidence we now feel comfortable labeling the AlphaGrip an ergonomic keyboard. This is important to attract prospective customers to our site. Granted, the AlphaGrip, in its current embodiment, is not ergonomic for everyone, especially those with larger than average or smaller than average hands (and we warn prospective buyers about this on our purchase page), but it certainly can be helpful to many, and it is at least as ergonomic as, and probably more ergonomic than, any keyboard on the market.
One of the major benefits of the AlphaGrip is the user’s ability to lean back at a 135% angle while gaming or computing. One study indicates that this position is healthier than sitting with your back straight at a 90% angle.
While the effort needed to gain proficiency on an AlphaGrip is still the major hurdle to widespread adoption, I believe as more people start Grippin', others will see that the benefit of learning to use an AlphaGrip is well worth the effort. It is ideal for those who are first learning to type. They can achieve typing speeds of 50+ words per minute in half the time it takes to learn on a keyboard, while at the same time reducing their risk of developing a repetitive strain injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Here is what I say to new users:
“… while it is easier and quicker to learn to touch type on an AlphaGrip than on a keyboard, it still takes practice – about an hour a day for a month to get to about 20-30 words per minute and then another month to get to 40-60 wpm. And trying to compress all the practice down to a few days won’t help much because you’re dealing with “muscle memory,” much of which develops over time in your subconscious when you’re not even using your Grip. After about a week or two you should start seeing some real improvement.
Using your Grip to play video games that require the use of numerous keys may have the ancillary effect of shortening the typing learning curve (see the gaming page on our website). There are also several free programs you can use to practice typing with your Grip that might make the experience more enjoyable (see our learning curve page.)"
Importantly, our manufacturer recently implemented a major firmware modification which significantly increased the speed of the AlphaGrip’s trackball using a non-linear gain algorithm recommended by an AlphaGrip reseller and trackball expert, Tim Barry. The AlphaGrip’s trackball now moves the pointer slowly and accurately when you move the trackball slowly, while moving the pointer very quickly when you move the trackball quickly.
Not only does the faster trackball improve the experience for new AlphaGrip users, it should also help us penetrate the gaming market because the AlphaGrip’s learning curve for gaming is much shorter than that for high speed typing. Based on customer feedback it appears that the AlphaGrip is especially suited for playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) while leaning back in a comfortable position. A faster trackball also makes the AlphaGrip more attractive to a broader audience. Consequently, we are beginning to focus our marketing efforts on distributors and licensees in order to generate the resources we need to develop the next generation AlphaGrips.
In addition to growing sales, we’ve received significant recognition for our innovation. We were one of three winners out of over 10,000 small businesses competing in a contest sponsored by Yahoo! and we were a finalist in the Microsoft NextGen PC Design competition with a 10-year-old prototype of an AlphaGrip handheld computer (we’re the 6th entry down).
There is a widespread, growing desire for productive, desk-free computing and AlphaGrip offers the best input technology solution to meet that desire.
Update #10 to President's Message
April 26, 2007: We made excellent progress over the past year toward our goal of establishing a toehold in the market for AlphaGrip technology. First, we sold out our initial production run of 1,000 AlphaGrips by word of mouth alone. Then we made a few minor modifications and are now selling units from our second run.
As for customer satisfaction, our return rate is very low and we continue to receive high marks from users throughout the world. A number of our customers, including programmers, students, gamers, scientists, professors, desktop publishers, and other knowledge workers, continue to add value for all AlphaGrip users by spending time, energy and ingenuity to create character remapping programs, physical modifications, and suggestions for the next version of the AlphaGrip. Highlights from our Google Group discussions are posted on our wiki. Those two platforms have allowed us to provide timely customer support, release product enhancements and extensions, and engage in research and development.
User comments suggest that our technology’s two most significant improvements to knowledge worker productivity and entertainment relate to ergonomic and mobile computing. While the initial impetus for developing the AlphaGrip was to dramatically increase productivity on handheld devices, it turns out that the AlphaGrip also promotes comfortable, and in some cases ergonomic, computing. Consequently, we plan to focus our development in those two arenas – ergonomic and mobile computing.
While the AlphaGrip is more comfortable than a keyboard right out of the box (based on my experience and customer comments), several users searching for ergonomic input alternatives to the standard keyboard and mouse have gone one step further by modifying their Grips with “add-ons” attached to the sides and/or the keys – making the Grip accommodate their particular ergonomic need or hand size, and reducing finger movement. For those with a repetitive strain injury, the AlphaGrip is the most ergonomic solution they've tried (See for example: Carl Andersen Add-Ons).
Our customers have made several excellent suggestions for the next version of the comfortable computing AlphaGrip, the AG-6, (See AG-6 Suggestions), which include incorporating an optical trackball, and making it programmable, adjustable for different hand sizes, and wireless.
The tremendous potential increase in productivity on handheld devices that AlphaGrip represents (40-70 wpm vs. 5-25 wpm, a 300-800% improvement) compels us to also work toward bringing the AG-7 to market. Current designs call for the AG-7 to be a portable input accessory/cradle into which you would plug your smartphone or handheld computer to perform any task as quickly and comfortably as you could on a regular desktop computer with a full size keyboard and mouse. We would also like to incorporate AlphaGrip technology directly into a handheld device that folds into your pocket.
I’ve been waiting 10 years, since the Palm Pilot first hit the market, to pull a handheld computer from my pocket and bang out emails, memos or other documents at 50+ wpm (actually, I have been clocked at 80 wpm with my modified Grip), while riding to work on the subway, sitting on the sidelines at my kids’ soccer practice, or leaning back in a recliner in the family room or in a lounge chair out on the deck. Though we’re at least two years away from releasing that product, we may be able to simulate the experience by developing a cradle that plugs into the AG-5 to hold a smartphone, which is in turn connected to and controlled by the AG-5.
To generate the requisite resources to develop the next generation AlphaGrips, we are turning our attention to marketing. We recently became available on Amazon.com and are hoping that some positive reviews will help generate sales there. We are also looking at other online vendors. We plan on contacting technology bloggers and journalists to emphasize the benefits of highly productive handheld computing, i.e., writing notes, blogs, stories or articles at 50+ wpm on a smartphone while standing, walking, riding, or reclining. We also plan to contact distributors, retailers, and manufacturers who may be interested in selling our products, private labeling them, or licensing our technology.
Thanks to all our customers for helping us get this far.
Update #9 to President's Message
May 1, 2006: While it took much longer than expected and was not without its problems, the launch of the world’s first handheld, high-speed, input device has been successful.
After considerable testing at higher speeds of text entry (40+ wpm) we discovered that some keys on the first mass-produced AlphaGrips required slightly more pressure to generate their characters, which resulted in typing errors. So we sent back the first two production runs (a total of 500 AlphaGrips) for repair. We received the 3rd production run toward the end of January (only 160 units) and most of them worked fine, so we began shipping those that passed inspection. We received several batches of repaired and new AlphaGrips over the next several months, testing and shipping them until we finally fulfilled all backorders. We are now shipping new orders within 2-3 days of receipt. We’ve shipped about 750 of the 1,000 AlphaGrips we initially ordered.
Overall our manufacturer did a very good job with a tough product. We’ve received relatively positive reviews by two publications (Ars Technica and Extreme Tech) with a rating of 7 out of 10 on both. More importantly, most of our customers are happy with their AG-5, as am I. It looks good, has a solid feel to it, and does what it was intended to do: it lets you compute and game comfortably without having to sit up at a desk leaning over a keyboard and mouse. We’ve only had about 10 returns (pursuant to our 30-day money-back guarantee) and we’ve only had to replace about 8 defective units. More than a few customers have said they believe that some day the AlphaGrip or some evolution of it will be widely used. Some have even suggested that the AlphaGrip will revolutionize computing (and they are not my relatives nor on our payroll).
The major problems cited with the AG-5 are the trackball (too sluggish on some computers) and the steep learning curve (spending 30-60 hours to become proficient is a major commitment). With regard to the trackball, most customers have been able to tweak the settings on their computers to achieve adequate trackball speed, though some have had to resort to 3rd party applications (see our FAQ page). And with regard to the learning curve, there are various games which make learning to use an AlphaGrip more enjoyable (see our Learning Curve page). Fortunately, it appears that many people perceive the benefit of comfortable, productive, desk-free computing outweighs the detriment of a steep learning curve.
There is an active AlphaGrip Google Group with threads on a wide variety of topics including remapping the AlphaGrip’s character configuration for programmers or Dvorak devotees and making physical modifications to enhance comfort and accommodate larger hands.
Update #8 to President's Message
December 28, 2005: We received 300 AlphaGrips yesterday and expect another 200 tomorrow. We expect to receive another 500 in the first half of January. We have begun testing them and for the most part they are working fine (we've only had to reject 2 out of 50 so far). We will begin contacting our pre-launch customers today and expect to start shipping orders next week.
Update #7 to President's Message
November 17, 2005: Toward the end of October Sejin sent us three textured final production prototypes (T-4). Two of them met all specifications; one did not. We didn't know if the problem with the third prototype was a tooling issue, or one specific to that particular prototype (a key required slightly more pressure to activate its characters).
I returned the offending prototype for Sejin’s inspection to confirm whether or not it was a tooling issue, which, Sejin determined, it was not. I was told that once we begin mass production, random problems with particular units should be caught during the quality control (QC) phase.
Consequently, I approved the tooling and gave Sejin the go-ahead to begin production of our initial 1,000 unit order. I was told that assembling the AG-5 is more complicated than assembling a flat keyboard, so our order will likely not be completed (including QC) until the second half of December.
Update #6 to President's Message
October 5, 2005: I received the new prototype (T-3) and have been testing it for the past two days. The index finger keys are now working fine and I have provided Sejin with written confirmation that they have met all functional specifications. There’s a website on the Internet on which I’ve been testing my typing speed, http://www.typingtest.com/, and I hit 70 wpm on one test (though most of the time I reach 60 wpm).
I was hoping that the T-3 would come with textured plastic, but Sejin decided that we should approve all functional specifications first before it sandblasts the molds to add texture. We could possibly hit an October delivery date if we forego adding texture, and I must admit a shiny AG-5 looks good, but a textured AG-5 should be more comfortable to use, so we are going to stay the course.
I am told Sejin has already ordered the parts for the 1,000 unit production run and that I will receive the final textured prototype in two weeks. Once I approve the final prototype and all the parts are in, I am told it will take about a week to produce our order and a week to ship it here. We are now shooting for a November delivery date.
Update #5 to President's Message
September 13, 2005: I’ve been testing the second production prototype (T-2) for the past two weeks and everything is working fine except for the two index finger keys, the TF and NU keys. They are harder to push than the other keys and that’s slowing down my typing speed. Sejin says it can fix the index finger key problem and send me a final production prototype (with textured surface) in two weeks. I’m told that if I put in the purchase order now for our initial order of 1,000 units, Sejin will order the parts immediately and still make a mid-October ship date. So I have placed the PO, making payment contingent upon: 1) Sejin fixing the index finger keys; and 2) there being no new problems resulting from adding texture to the plastic casing and buttons.
Things are obviously getting tight and the mid-October date is going to be tough to hit, but at least I can see the end of the tunnel.
Update #4 to President's Message
August 2, 2005: The tooling was recently completed and we just received the first production prototype a few days ago.
It looks very good, I can comfortably speed type with it, and the trackball works very well, so we're just about there. Prior to receiving the prototype, our major concern was that we were entering uncharted waters by going from mechanical key switches on the handmade prototypes to membrane ones for mass production. I am very happy to report that the membrane switches work even better than the mechanical switches. They are more sensitive to the touch thus enabling faster, more comfortable typing. Unfortunately they are also more prone to error, but that will improve with use – I’m already making fewer errors after just a couple of days.
There are still a few minor corrections that need to be made, such as increasing the height of six buttons (the capital shift keys and the "J," "V," "X" and "Z") by 1 mm each to avoid hitting two keys at the same time. For example, when I reach my left thumb over to generate the "J" or the "V," I sometimes also press the "C" or the "Y." I’ve already sent the punch list to our manufacturer, Sejin, and they have begun making the corrections.
We expect to receive a new prototype by August 18. If it meets our specifications, we’ll get a final prototype before the end of August. It will then take 4-6 weeks from the date we approve the final prototype to produce our 1,000 unit order. This means we should be able to deliver AlphaGrips to our customers by early October.
I’m disappointed we’re not going to make an August delivery date, but at least we achieved a major milestone – cutting the tooling and successfully switching to new keyswitches.
FYI, I typed this message with the newest AlphaGrip prototype while leaning way back in a zero gravity chair viewing an elevated 30” LCD monitor. It’s the most comfortable computing experience I’ve ever had.
Update #3 to President's Message
April 5, 2005: I have good news and bad news. The good news is that in response to feedback received from a couple of our knowledgeable pre-order customers, we are adding scroll wheel and middle click button functionality to the AG-5 (no hardware changes, just firmware). The C and L keys, which generate the up arrow and down arrow commands, respectively, when activated in combination with the red shift key, will now also generate scroll up and scroll down commands when activated in combination with the green shift key. The right click button will generate middle click button functionality when activated in combination with the red shift key.
The bad news is that our manufacturer, Sejin, recently informed us that the tooling may not be completed for another 4.5 months, which pushes back delivery to the end of August (Sejin says this is a conservative estimate which assumes we will reject the first two production prototypes. Hopefully that won’t be the case).
The delay is due in part to our final modifications, including the scroll wheel and middle click button functionality, plus some minor changes to the casing to better accommodate future adapters for computing and communication devices. Additionally, the tooling for the AG-5 is more complicated than Sejin had anticipated - the working prototypes were produced with mechanical keys and, due to the AG-5's unusual form factor (unusual for a keyboard), the transition to membrane keys for mass production is much more complicated than Sejin initially expected.
Update #2 to President's Message
February 13, 2005: We approved the final prototype on November 22nd, and are very pleased with the high-quality job Sejin has done so far. The trackball is more precise than the mini-joystick, so that's what we are going with. With regard to the signal problem (see Update #1 below), when entering numbers and other characters commonly found in two separate areas of a standard keyboard (in the main section and on the number pad), the AG-5 only transmits the signal that emanates from the main area of a keyboard; not the number pad signals. We believe the AG-5 is now fully compatible with a Mac running OS X.
We have entered into a manufacturing agreement with Sejin and have sent in a purchase order. We expect the tooling to be completed in 4 weeks and to receive shipment of 1,000 AG-5's by the end of March. If all goes according to plan, we should be able to ship the AG-5 to our customers in April.
Update #1 to President's Message
Due to the enthusiastic response we received from our pre-launch sale, our manufacturer, Sejin, has reduced the minimum order requirement from 5,000 to 1,000. We've therefore decided to enter into a manufacturing agreement as soon as practicable even before we get the minimum number of orders. Based on the feedback we received from our customers, however, there are a few issues we need to address before we sign the manufacturing agreement.
First, we must test an AlphaGrip prototype, which Sejin is currently building, that has a trackball instead of a minijoystick. We believe the trackball will provide more precise cursor control. We're also changing the function of the "Ins" button to that of a "Command" key on a Mac (with the Insert function becoming a secondary function associated with the "Del" key). This change is intended to expand the AG-5's market to include users of Macs running OS X. We also discovered a problem when playing video games with the AG-5, e.g., the AG-5 is not sending out the exact same signal when pressing certain keys that a standard keyboard generates; Sejin is also working to resolve this problem. Finally, we plan to put a gold-colored AlphaGrip logo on the 1st 1,000 "Limited Edition" AG-5s we produce.
We expect to receive the final prototype in November at which time we will finalize the specifications and sign a manufacturing agreement. We plan to contact our customers and announce an expected ship date (which will most likely be in the 1st quarter, 2005) when we sign the deal.
Hello Potential AlphaGrip Customer,
After over seven years of research and development, we have one of the world’s largest keyboard companies, Sejin, ready to begin manufacturing our fifth generation AlphaGrip, the AG-5. Our final hurdle to launching our first product is to give Sejin a minimum order for 5,000 units. Sejin has built us great looking prototypes and we are confidant they will produce high quality AlphaGrips. The keys have a nice feel and work well. It took me about a month to reach an average typing speed of 50 wpm. Our ultimate goal is to enable AlphaGrip users to type as fast as they can think, from any location, in any position.
In order to get our first product out the door for under $100, we kept the bells and whistles down to a minimum, though we did include an expansion slot to make it relatively easy and inexpensive to add functionality in the future -- we plan to develop adapters that will plug into this expansion slot for a handheld computer, smart phone, TV remote control, or for wireless connectivity.
But, today we are bootstrapping to get a basic AlphaGrip to market. So, our first product is “simply” a handheld keyboard and mouse that looks like a sleek, futuristic game controller. When you connect the AG-5 to a PC running Windows or a Mac running OS X, it automatically recognizes the AG-5 as a standard USB keyboard and mouse. The AG-5 comes with a detachable USB cable and a desk stand. It’s great for typing while leaning away from your desk or when typing on a computer located somewhere other than an office (next to your TV or at the foot of your bed, for example). It’s also ideal for typing on a laptop or notebook computer in any location and it’s well-suited for video gaming.
I truly enjoy working on the computer while leaning back in my chair with the AG-5 in my lap. I also prefer to use the AlphaGrip on my laptop. The “mouse” is a mini-joystick that is not as fast or as sensitive as a traditional mouse, but it is still very functional and more comfortable to use. We are considering replacing the mini-joystick with a track ball before launch.
We are not asking you to pay anything up front. We just need you to go to our electronic store and authorize us to send you an AG-5 and charge your credit card for $99 when we ship. You will not be charged anything until an AG-5 is on its way to you. Please consider buying a few as presents – you can be sure your friends and relatives won’t already have one. And, if you know anyone who might be interested in purchasing an AG-5, please send them our way. The sooner we can give our manufacturer the minimum order, the sooner we can get you an AG-5.
AlphaGrip has the potential to become the dominant input technology for desk-free computing. It represents a 300-500% increase in text-entry speed relative to a pen stylus with handwriting recognition or a thumb keyboard, and it's much more comfortable than balancing a keyboard on your lap. With an AlphaGrip “anywhere computing" is a reality, not just a slogan. As an original AlphaGripper, you may very well be making history.
Thanks in advance for your support.
Michael Willner, President
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