The team developing the Wooting One keyboard, which promises analog keyboard input, held a livestream recently to announce that the One has entered its trial production phase. Ideally, this is effectively a test of the manufacturing process before the device enters mass production.
For a tiny team that raised its initial funding on Kickstarter, the trial production is a major milestone. However, Wooting discovered some lingering issues with the Flaretech switches it’s using on the One that could delay mass production.
In fact, this is not the first delay. On the livestream, the Wooting team noted that they were planning to get the trial run going back in August, but they wanted to clean up a few issues with the switches first.
Primarily, this had to do with the range of the switches. As we noted after we saw a demo of the One at Computex this summer, the full travel of the optical Flaretech switch is 4mm. Technically speaking, you could program the analog input for anywhere in the full 4mm range, but the design of the switch itself limits this capability. The light from the switches optics is occluded until 2mm into the travel. Therefore, you’re stuck with 2mm of pretravel and just 2mm to play with for the analog input.
MORE: Behold, The Rise Of The Optical Mechanical Keyboard Switch
It appears that Flaretech found a way around this problem, but issues remained. After the trial run, the Wooting team found that numerous variances in the top plate, the plastic switch itself, and the optical lens molding together created inconsistencies that caused problems. Partially, you can solve this through calibration, but as the team pointed out, that still leaves you with 88 switches that each have their own behavior and variances, so calibration is only so practical. Furthermore, calibration doesn’t completely ameliorate the consistency issues.
Therefore, they aren’t completely satisfied with the consistency of the switches and may, in fact, need to do another trial production run.
Assuming they do another trial and are satisfied with the results, the Wooting team said that they’ll need to perform extensive QA before the One goes into mass production.
Wooting CEO and co-founder Calder Limmen described the situation as “three steps forward, one step back.”
All of the above puts Wooting’s planned delivery date of February 2017 in jeopardy. However, there is a way to yet meet its goal: If Wooting and Flaretech can solve the current issues with the switches quickly, they could yet enter mass production in December and get keyboards to customers in February. If the issues take a little longer to fix, and they have to push mass production back to January, there’s still hope; Wooting would just have to ship the finished products by air instead of by boat, which is faster but more expensive.
No one likes delays, but considering that Wooting is a three-man team that got its first round of funding in June of this year--and still might hit their promised shipping date despite setbacks--the feat is still impressive. It’s also worth noting that the guys who created the One are focused on ensuring that the end product is up to their standards, so whenever the Wooting One arrives on your doorstep, you’ll be getting what you paid for.
What's the point, anyway? I prefer a precision binary switch for keys. If I wanted analog I'd be using something other than a keyboard. Like a controller plugged in via USB. There's not a lot of travel to play with in keyboard keys vs triggers on a controller.
I, for one, believe that analog keyboards should have existed since 15 years ago.
Well, the idea is that you get those analog controls with the convenience and accuracy of a keyboard.
You're right that the limited travel is a suspect issue. However, I'll repeat what I said in my initial coverage of the One:
"...even though the analog switch function worked flawlessly, I was beginning to question the usefulness of such a design--but then I toggled back to the standard digital on/off keyboard mode. The difference was stark; I felt like I was suddenly using outdated technology and immediately wanted to switch back to the analog mode."
Also, as I've noted, Wooting wanted to expand the available travel. Previously, because of the limitations of the Flaretech switch, they had only 2mm to use for the variable pressure...with this new version of the switch, they have much more. And the new design is what caused the delay.