It promised to be the first gadget to perfect handwriting and drawing on the iPad, but after raising almost A$160,000 on Kickstarter, the Australian-made Collusion pen and collaboration software has been labelled "unusable".
Finished months behind schedule, it joins a series of crowd-funded projects that have fallen far short of expectations by failing to deliver what was promised in a reasonable time frame.
University of Technology Sydney programmer Stuart Ryan pledged $299 to the project and received two units, which he describes as "completely unusable".
Ryan published a video demonstration on YouTube showing difficulty even in drawing a straight line with the pen. He and many of the 912 other Collusion backers have complained of lag, accuracy and calibration issues and missing features, as well as other bugs.
"Essentially they delivered an unusable product, a piece of software that they actually removed features out of prior to release – from what they were [demonstrating] to us," Ryan said.
"They have stopped replying to emails, and input from them on the support forums are scarce at best."
Originally slated for delivery in September last year, the Collusion pens didn't arrive for Ryan until December, while some only received the gadget in February.
Both in the comments section of Collusion's Kickstarter page and on the company's private forum, several backers have complained that the Collusion team is unresponsive. Software updates to fix the reported bugs have yet to arrive.
"Is there anyone who is satisfied with Collusion?" wrote one backer.
"The support forum receives no support, and at this point has just been full of complaints. I feel like I've been duped – the app has few, if any, of the promised features, and the hardware is disappointing."
On Monday, another Australian backer wrote on the company's private support forums: "We are now into March ... at least three months since people started receiving hardware and software but not a single new release... just the promise of features and bug fixes in some mythical future release."
Some expected features that were not delivered include importing text and PDF documents for annotation, handwriting recognition, audio recording, offline mode and zooming on the canvas.
The founder of Collusion, Robert Yearsley, has worked on start-ups for several years and was previously the manager of the Telstra team responsible for T-Box.
Since the Kickstarter success, Yearsley claims to have raised A$1 million extra funding for Collusion from outside investors and he is increasingly targeting corporate customers.
When Fairfax Media visited the Collusion team at the Fishburners co-working space in the Sydney suburb of Ultimo in June 2012, the basic functionality of the pre-release demo product worked fine. This does not appear to have carried over to the final product.
Through a spokesman, Yearsley said the next release of the Collusion software – which included bug fixes and new features – was undergoing internal testing and would be released in due course. He accepted the company's communication "could have been better".
"Since Apple won't accept beta software to the App Store, the version that we had to release to our backers via the app store had to be basic but stable, with updates to come as we continue developing," he said.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) warned in August last year of the risk of fraud carried out through crowd-funding sites and that funded projects may fail to deliver.
ASIC said it may have a role to regulate Australian-based crowd-funding sites but Kickstarter, the most popular site, is based in the US. While Collusion was developed in Sydney, it is a US company partly due to Kickstarter requiring project creators to be registered in the US or Britain.
Nick Abrahams, a partner with Sydney law firm Norton Rose, said Australians engaging with non-Australian crowd-funding sites were unlikely to have the benefit of our consumer protection legislation.
"It would be difficult for the ACCC or ASIC to claim any jurisdiction over these sites or the promoters that use the sites to get investment in their products," he said.
A CNNMoney examination of the top 50 most-funded projects on Kickstarter – which collectively raised $US40.3 million from more than 413,000 backers – found 84 per cent missed their target delivery dates. The analysis, published in December 2012, found 15 of them hadn't shipped at all and for those that had shipped the median delay was two months.
Kickstarter has stressed it is not a store and delays and changes to projects often occur, but while its terms and conditions require project creators to honour promised rewards, the site itself takes no responsibility for securing refunds.
One of Collusion's Australian backers, who did not want to be named, said it was her first Kickstarter pledge and she would "never, ever do it again", after receiving what she described as rude service from the company when trying to obtain support.
"It was horrific in a word, absolutely horrific," she said.
- FFX Aus