Way back in July 2015 I heard about Gnarbox and their concept (Kickstarter page). As a travel photographer, it was exactly what I needed. Well, I wasn’t so needing the in-field photo or video editing and immediate social media posting, but the main draw card for me was the quick and simple SD card backup ability. It was only to be 128Gb (barely enough for a trip, but something was better than nothing), but it was supremely portable, and it hit the sweet spot at US$149. If it were much higher than that, I would have balked. I hummed and huhhed at the $149, but considered the project to be back-able. The recommended retail price was to be nearly USD$250, so a discount drew me in, assuming I probably wouldn’t regret getting it. As of 28th Jan 2017, it’s listed at USD$299 on B&H, and as “Coming soon” (B&H).
There are some downsides with the device. Firstly, it is only 128Gb, and so it will be barely enough. Secondly, all technology items at the moment have a useful life of three to five year before obsolescence. The Gnarbox is so far ten months late in delivery, and new cameras include wifi to smartphones, and new smarphones are now able to take amazing photos, reducing the need for a dedicated picture/video device. Thirdly, there is no password or encryption protection, or any kind of security, which makes journalism and cross-border travel risky for some. Fourthly, there is still very little to no independent assessment as to it’s in-field / real world use. How long is the battery life? How long until the batteries deteriorate and need replacing? How practical is it to carry an adapter for people using CF cards? Finally, does it still fit into my workflow?
All investments carry risk, “will the creator deliver?”, “Will it be as promised?”, among other concerns. It was my first project to back on Kickstarter, and it was exactly the tool I needed. The device was due to be delivered in March 2016, which means it was intended to be a quick and easy development. Importantly, however, was the detailed information the creators provided on Kickstarter. I was impressed, and especially compared to other Kickstarter pages/projects, these guys seemed to have a clear idea of what needed to be done. So, I threw my hat (and money) into the ring.
Not all projects have smooth sailing, and not all best laid plans go off without a hitch; bumps are expected. In February 2016 the Gnarbox team announced that a deal with a processing chip manufacturer fell threw, and so they had to rejig their development to a new supplier, which meant that delivery was pushed back to September 2016. So far, I was not concerned, and considered it a necessary move.
September 2016 came and went without a word on delivery, which was the first red flag for me. The August update did not mention any problem with delivery deadlines, as shown below.
Then in September they promised to start deliveries on the 19th Sept. The screenshot below shows that even the packaging had been designed and completed.
Then in October they stated that they were to do FCC and CE certifications. This meant that they had not gone into production, and were officially not certified for sale or distribution in at least the US nor Europe. Then 27th October they claimed that they will start to deliver in November. That means that they missed their official delivery dates for March and September 2016, and promised a third date: November 2016. A Kickstarter update on November 19 said that there had been problems getting FCC and CE approvals, but things were going well. It also noted that US backers, and US-based pre-orders get the first three rounds of deliveries, and the rest of the world (including me, who invested into the project before US-based pre-order people) get mine in the fourth and final round of deliveries. At this point, of the original 2,988 backers, there were already discontent, and backers were making requests for refunds.
The 10th of December 2016 update in hindsight is very troubling. It focused on the positive in the development. It told what had been achieved – only what had been achieved. It failed to acknowledge that the third delivery promise had been missed, and it did not mention anything about their financial situation as backers were requesting their refunds. It also failed to slate a new delivery date. As the community discussion shows on Kickstarter, there were howls of anger at the lack of information; information that backers actually want. The discontent is understandable and justified.
Instagram is an important platform for promoting the Gnarbox. The Gnarbox team regularly posted photos and videos as the latest samples from in-field testing from the prototypes. Interestingly, all such Instagram posts include the Gnarbox watermark. However, it is not known if watermarking is possible on their editing software, or if the image was processed on a real computer back at home or studio. On Instagram, there were many backers leaving comments on Gnarbox official sample photos and videos like “Nice photo, would be nice to get my Gnarbox”, or simply “When do I get mine?”. All such comments were plain and civil, including mine. However, I was blocked by them, and it was a shock. To me it was a hostile move by Gnarbox; you should never disrespect the people who give you money, and yet I was treated like a common internet troll. I’m sure this will also count as a blackmark against me in the Instagram system. Also consider that they had missed three delivery deadlines, and there is community discontent, and trust was/is fading.
At the time I was confused and shocked. I had never been treated like this. Then I saw that Lok and Kaiman Wong were about to attend the 2017 CES trade show, and so it made sense. Gnarbox, who were to attend CES, were doing badly, and so they had to censor their social media reputation in the hope that they can draw in more money. However, there were still the howls of rage from the backers wanting updates or refunds, what had happened to the promises of a March, September, and then a November 2016 deliveries?
Then strangely Gnarbox posted their “Jan 4th update” on January 6th 2017, claiming that they had missed only two delivery deadlines, but would deliver in January 2017. Which deadline doesn’t count? The March, September, or November one? Instantly, there were backers saying that deliveries from China are notoriously slow, and this is an important point, as their printed circuit boards are produced there. Also note that 27th January marks the start of the Chinese New Year, when everyone goes on holiday there. Furthermore, there seems to be a rush by backers to get refunds while they can. I don’t know anything about their financial position, nor of their actual production schedule at this point. Gnarbox, since September has been teasing us with “deliveries will be soon” promises, and teasing us with frequent Instagram posts of supposed samples made in the field with their prototypes. These two factors have changed the mood from excitement to insult; here is a product you have invested in, but you cannot have.
At this point, it’s 28th January 2017 and no update from Gnarbox since the 6th Jan. It is 10 months past their original delivery date, and they’ve missed three delivery dates, and it’s almost certain that I will not receive my Gnarbox in the remaining three days of this month. That means that they will have missed four delivery dates, and have a string of broken promises to their investors. Finally, I need to consider if the device will ever be delivered, why I’m last on the delivery schedule (being non-US based, and outside their legal jurisdiction), and if there is any money left should I request a refund. The Gnarbox company will have committed to producing at least 3,300 devices, and the more they can sell at full price rather than at backer discount, the better. Consequently, refunds in fact, can be helpful to them; should I help or await my delivery? Decisions, decisions.
Watch this space, I may post updates below.
UPDATE, 31st Jan 2017: Gnarbox has posted an update. In short, no delivery. It is interesting to see that this update lacks any photos and no videos. Some of their previous updates included a video of the founder, looking a little nervous and shaky, giving a statement on their progress. This time we’re reduced to a short statement, three days after it was promised.
What is telling is that despite the promise to deliver this month, they did not say it directly, but they admit to not having even the first item produced to do quality control testing. It is interesting that they are avoiding stating what happened with the PCBs and the planned production, and that this message arrives on the final day of the month. They also fail to provide a timeline and details of the stage they are at in the manufacturing process. Do they have the PCBs? Do they have the SD, micro SD, USB port components? Do they have the cases? Do they have the rubber doors for the cases? Do they have instruction manuals printed? What has happened with the software development that they explicitly and detailed in previous updates?
It is also interesting that three days ago they asked in what form the community would like their customer support, and that question was answered with silence. Finally, and disturbingly, the Gnarbox team said that future communications will be taken off of Kickstarter and done via their email address; that is, away from a publicly viewable record.
Update 8th Feb 2017: Two things happened. Firstly, on the 4th Feb Gnarbox sent out an email to confirm delivery addresses. This was on the same day as they announced this in the comments section, “@all – First article inspection is complete and a pass. Shipping confirmation sent out.”, meaning they made their first Gnarbox, tested it, and it didn’t fail. This is unusual to me, as they successfully made exactly one successful item (no announcement on how many failed), and suddenly they are asking for delivery information. To me, you’d only ask for address information if delivery is imminent. People like me are way down the list for delivery, and they are hoping that I will still be at this address when they finally get around to sending mine out. Some backers have said that they might not be reachable in March or April. Let’s face it, Gnarbox have missed their March, September, November, and January deadlines. It’s likely mine will arrive in March, making it a full 12 months late.
Secondly, one of the backers shared this video by former DigitalRev wideo guy and presenter Lok, on the comments forum on Kickstarter. For me it’s infuriating, as this happy, positive promotional video was recorded just days after Gnarbox went through their Instagram posts and deleted all the late-delivery comments and blocked concerned backers/investors like me in their social media censorship.
It seems the delivery address email did it’s job in keeping the natives content, as it has so far stopped people from making more announcements of wanting their money back. Further, this video is the first real evidence I’ve seen that the product is real, and becoming real; albeit, 12 months later. Thanks Lok.
UPDATE 5th March 2017: Still not received my Gnarbox. My suspicion that they sent out the address confirmation three weeks ago may have been a stalling tactic seems true. In fact, nobody has seen or heard anything from the Gnarbox folks since the 16th February, and this is a moment when they claimed that people would have already started to receive their Gnarboxes. The backers’ comments on Kickstarter are basically calling for updates and confirmations that the company hasn’t done a runner. I think this is a moment where Gnarbox has seriously hurt their own reputation, as it will be hard to trust their claims in the future, especially because of this three week period of radio silence.
Also note that this month commemorates one year since they missed their first promise of delivery.
Update 16th March 2017: This is so significant that it needs its own blog post. See here.