by Michael Shapiro | March 21, 2014

Nearly a year and a half ago, I wrote about iPad input devices and described my enthusiasm for a keyboard I hadn't yet received. The CruxSkunk cradles the iPad in an aluminum casing and adds full-size keys, resulting in something that looks more like a MacBook Air than an iPad with a keyboard accessory.

I hadn't received said keyboard because I ordered it by funding a Kickstarter project. For those uninitiated to crowdsourcing, that means I pledged a chunk of money to help these design entrepreneurs reach their funding goal in exchange for the promise that I'd receive the case once it came off the assembly line. So when I laid out my credit card, I didn't even know for sure that the thing would ever be produced. But despite some reservations about the form factor -- would I really want to turn my iPad into a netbook? -- I was smitten with the design. It looked like a MacBook Air! It promised a keyboard one could actually type on! I couldn't wait.

But wait I did. And this is the thrill and the curse of shopping on Kickstarter. These guys from CruxCase were designers with some products to their name, but they hadn't done anything quite like this before. They went to China. They encountered production delays. They encountered more delays. There were setbacks. They got bad press from Mashable in the form of a September 2012 review entitled "CruxSkunk iPad Keyboard Exposes the Mirage of Kicktarter." Ouch. "There's a world of difference between a great idea and the successful execution of that idea," wrote Pete Pachal in that oozing-with-disappointment review.

After that was published, CruxCase founder and CEO Brian Probst said they had sent Mashable a prototype, not a production model. "We expected they would treat it as a prototype," he told me recently. "We knew there were parts that were very rough, but we thought they would treat it as we did, to get an idea about the product. But they assumed it was a production model."

Probst continued, "But I think it also opened up our eyes to some of the dangers, some of the things we really had to be considerate of. For example, one thing Mashable brought up was the size of the holes in the keyboard for the keys. It made me realize we had to make sure the dimensions were appropriate, and we retooled some of the stamping. I think value came from that review, at least from an internal perspective."

It was more than a year later when I finally got my hands on my own CruxSkunk. The delay would have been devastatingly frustrating had I specific plans for using it, but admittedly, I was pretty fascinated to follow along with the production soap opera via Probst's Kickstarter updates. Therein is the thrill of the platform: The more challenges encountered in producing the product, the more you really feel like you're part of the team, having backed it in the first place.

"What we realized about the Kickstarter market was that it isn't so much about the destination as it is about the journey," Probst affirmed. "Most of the backers want a special deal on the end product, to start with. But then they want to be updated every week, they want to have the drama of going through, they want to see the process. It's kind of like reality TV. You get to see the true nitty-gritty, all of the problems; you share in the successes but you also share in the failures. It seemed to me the backers only really got upset when I wasn't transparent, when I didn't update them every week. Silence was the worst sin I could commit on Kickstarter. It's really a social platform to create shared experiences."

Clearly, though, it wasn't just about the journey for Probst and Crux. They were obviously motivated by the Mashable slam, and part of the reason for delays was their perfectionism, their attention to detail to make an accessory worth of Apple's aesthetic.

That began to outweigh the practical aspects of finishing and shipping the product. In May 2013, I received an update for backers, excitedly proclaiming that the first final-production models would soon arrive in the U.S. "The quality is very high," wrote Probst, "and damn expensive, might I add! Crux is actually losing money on the CruxSkunk. But we've made something that hasn't been made before. And I'm proud of how it turned out…. So enjoy your ridiculously expensive and gorgeous CruxSkunk, since there will be only so many of these in the wild in its current form."

In fact, only 2,400 CruxSkunk cases were made, and they were all shipped to people who backed the product. To make any money at all on the case, Probst told me, they'd have had to sell it in the $400 range, which clearly would not fly for an iPad keyboard.

But you know what? It really is beautiful. There are a few drawbacks, one of which is weight -- the case is a solid piece of aluminum that matches the MacBook Air aesthetic; despite the fact it's very thin, it is not light as air. But it weighs less than my MacBook Pro, and to be honest, it is the first iPad accessory I've encountered that makes me feel pretty secure about leaving behind that MacBook Pro when I travel. I can head from my hotel room to a convention center with my iPad and the CruxSkunk, confident that if I have to do any extensive typing for on-the-spot news there will be no problems. Typing on the keyboard is a breeze; it feels like I'm using a small laptop. And I can always remove the iPad for more mobile use, such as for perusing the event app while walking the trade show floor.

There aren't any new CruxSkunks for sale, but as I write this Probst and company are experiencing a bit more drama: Their latest Kickstarter project, the CruxEncore, is nearing its funding deadline — and they're still more than $40,000 short of their $90,000 goal. If you're looking for an improved, less-expensive-to-produce version of the CruxSkunk to use with your iPad Air, head over to Kickstarter before Sunday morning. For an $89 pledge (currently the best award deal), you can reserve a CruxEncore case and be a part of the story. If they don't make their goal, Kickstarter won't charge your card. If they do make the goal, Probst expects the CruxEncore to retail in the $199 range. With Kickstarter, though, the future is impossible to predict.