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The crowdfunded phone of the future is a multimillion-dollar scam



In 2014, Jeffrey Tschiltsch opened an email from Indiegogo and saw the future of computing. The email featured something called "Dragonfly Futurefön," a type of computer-phone hybrid. The Futurefön page featured a soft, palm-sized touchscreen that slid into a laptop dock, then folded flat and reopened, revealing a second screen and a full-size laptop. It can run on both Windows and Android, and its creator, a startup called IdealFuture, promises to replace your phone, laptop, and tablet at an incredible price of $ 799. It's annoying but intriguing, Tschiltsch put it. a $ 200 deposit.

Five years later, Tschiltsch still does not have a Futurefön. Instead, he is sitting in an Illinois court witnessing the FBI's best case, claiming the device was the last step in a decade of fraudulent operations that cost victims nearly $ 6 million. "I've always thought it was ambitious," Tschiltsch said today. "It didn't occur to me that the guy just took the money."

Tschiltsch is just one of many angry Indiegogo supporters who say Futurefön creator Jeff Batio has been blown away by lies, patience, and product updates. But supporters aren't just angry with Batio. They are frustrated by how easily a fraudster can thrive in the high-risk world of gadget crowdfunding ̵

1; and how poorly Indiegogo is equipped to deal with it.


  A rendition of Dragonfly Futurefön, fully opened.

A rendition of Dragonfly Futurefön, fully opened.
Image: IdealFuture / Indiegogo

According to its crowdfunding campaign, Dragonfly Futurefön is a revolutionary, dual-screen notebook that aims to dramatically simplify computing. Its "Slingshot" section is a 7-inch Android phone with a stylus, but that's just one part of the device. That phone is plugged into a split-hinged keyboard base, which also comes with a slide-out touchpad, a second 7-inch display, a dockable Bluetooth headset, and a separate battery and processor.

The device is modular: you can use a separate piece, or you can plug the phone into the base and get a dual-display laptop that looks like two small netbooks. (An optional added "Win-Droid" capability, which allows the laptop section to run on either Windows or Android.) The combined effect is simultaneously cute and futuristic, especially with a cover. clip-on cover. Batio – in a quote attributed to himself on the Indiegogo page – declared it as nothing less than "a mobile metamorphosis."

Backfön Rebecca Pillinger was fired by renderings. "It sounds like a fantastic product," he said. He has never owned a smartphone, his tablet has recently been damaged, and he loves his dual-screen desktop setup at work. Wrap all three devices in one $ 800 package sounds amazing.

Fans of straightforward computing may find a three-in-one transforming dual-screen laptop funny. But in 2014, many major electronics companies were pursuing similar ideas. In 2011, Motorola released a full size laptop shell for the Atrix Android phone called Lapdock. The 2013 Razer Edge is a high-powered laptop that doubles as a handheld gaming console. The 2012 Asus PadFone is a 4-inch phone that fits perfectly into a 10-inch tablet paired with a laptop-style keyboard and an electronic stylus, which is also a wireless headset. The same year as the Futurefön campaign, Asus announced a more ambitious five-on-one Android / Windows phone / laptop / tablet at Computex, though the idea never made it to the market.

Crowdfunded gadgets, meanwhile, are taking the world by storm. Facebook just acquired the crowdfunded Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for $ 2 billion. More than 85,000 people are backed by a surprisingly good smartwatch called Pebble. One company raised $ 13 million to build a tricked-out, high-tech cooler. If you can earn $ 23,000 through the promise of a mindset headset for dogs, selling a $ 800 convertible laptop is out of date.

Futurefön is not a sure bet – but to many supporters, it seems to be a risky bet. "It probably won't see the light of day, but it's so cool not to come back for $ 200," Tschiltsch thought. Pillinger thinks he can afford only Futurefön at Indiegogo's early-bird price, not the full retail value. "The worst thing I ever thought to happen was that they would launch honest phone intentions, but procrastinate and not go about getting into work," he said.

The Indiegogo campaign was designed to create doubts. IdealFuture describes Batio as an entrepreneur who has been building unique personal computing hardware for decades. Its Indiegogo page provided a "laptop-changing multi-display" that it released in 2002, called the Xentex Flip-Pad Voyager. Social media VP Bridget Hogan claimed in an interview that IdealFuture had a US-based manufacturer, allowing it to ship Futurefön for six months. After Tschiltsch tweeted doubts about the project, he recalled, someone from IdealFuture reached out saying they were "all lined up."

Batio did not claim to have extensive technical knowledge, but he developed a vision. His personal website describes him as a "dynamic futurist" – a term he likes for "someone who's not 'seen' in the future based on studying trends created by others, but on rather a person who helps create the future. ”Other futurist dynamics include Thomas Edison and Bill Gates, and a promotional video on Indiegogo vs. IdealFuture at Rosa Parks and the Tiananmen Square demonstrators.

A closer look at Batio and IdealFuture may have raised many red flags. IdealFuture posted reams of 3D models but almost no photos of actual hardware – a practice that Kickstarter banned two years ago, but Indiegogo didn't. The specs of Dragonfly Futurefön don't look good; this 7-inch phablet weighs farther than the smaller Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, for example. And while Batio has been working on experimental computers for decades, he never really sent – including a laptop he promised the Indigenous people in an earlier campaign. His ventures have left a string of unsuspecting investors and contractors, some of whom may be ready to talk if anyone calls them. But Futurefön raised hundreds of thousands of dollars before anyone boarded the railroad.


  IdealFuture Dragonfly Futurefön

Photo: IdealFuture / Indiegogo

Jeff Batio's computing dreams began in the late '90s when he was struck by the idea of ​​a super folded, split-screen or laptop. Batio has filed numerous patents for its unique design, and around 2000, he founded a company called Xentex to build it.

The resulting Flip-Pad Voyager was created with the help of the legendary Frog firm. It is essentially a dual-monitor portable desktop, folding like a large traditional laptop, then again with a split-screen and keyboard for more convenient travel. Unlike Futurefön, it does not have a smartphone component, but it still has a number of unique features. In addition to dual-screen setup, you can use two panels as a single giant display with seam in the middle, or you can swivel one to face away from you – in case, for example, you need you show other people a spreadsheet or slideshow.

Voyager received a positive (if anyone bemused) press coverage when it was announced, even though it did so on the cover of PC Magazine in 2002. The writing, which is still online, Called the Flip-Pad Voyager "is the mother of all desktop replacement desktops," adding "we've never seen anything like it."


  Popular Science, 2002

The Xentex Flip-Pad Voyager in Popular Science, September 2002.
Photo: Popular Science

But the device didn't make it to the stores. According to Batio, Voyager was almost ready to ship when his manufacturing bank in Korea went bankrupt, effectively killing the product. But not everyone agrees with that story. An indictment from angry investors has accused Xentex of hiding serious technical problems that have jeopardized the project. Batio is not a defendant in the lawsuit, but plaintiffs say he spends the company's money on houses and luxury, making the company's financial challenges even more difficult to overcome.

Batio denied the claims and called the suit a clear attempt. to seize control of the company. He noted that two of the plaintiffs were charged with trying to fraudulently sell Xentex stock, among other offenses. However, Xentex dissolved, and Voyager was never seen again – except for a semi-functional prototype that appeared on eBay in 2008.

Mikal Greaves, who led Frog's engineering team for years Xentex was active, believing that Batio actually had a functional computer. "Jeff has money, Frog, and a contract manufacturer, which he has very close to a shippable product," he said. That doesn't mean Voyager is commercially viable. The market for a 12-pound, nearly $ 5,000 portable desktop will always be limited. But in Greaves's opinion, this is not a scam. "Crowdfunding Futurefön," he said, "is another matter entirely."


  The Armada Radian, another planned dual-screen project.

The Armada Radian, another planned dual-screen project.
Image: Armada [19659031] Batio dropped from Xentex's failure almost immediately, finding a new company called Armada and launching the IdealFuture brand in early 2010. Its Voyager design joins the Radian docking station and the IF Convertible, a laptop change that is almost identical to Futurefön. IdealFuture brought the IF Convertible to Indiegogo in 2013, where it raised $ 18,000 from just 33 people. But a year later, the company claimed to "redesign the whole device," and launched the Futurefön campaign to achieve greater success.

Three people who worked at IdealFuture describe that at first fascinated but quickly failed in the project – and lost thousands of dollars in the process. Realtor and musician Ryan Farhood said he invested $ 10,000 in IdealFuture and worked on a song for the company. (The jingle is sadly lost in history.) A friend went for Batio, and Farness was impressed enough to share Futurefön's design with Qualcomm's small-build connection. But when Qualcomm made no sense and Farness started asking questions about the project, he claimed, his relationship with Batio was soured. "Everything is pure pose. There are no prototypes. There is no functional model," Farhood said. "I'm so sorry that I deposited the money."


  IdealFuture stock certificate

An IdealFuture stock certificate, assigns 50,000 shares to web designer Allison Suguhara.
Photo by Allison Sugahara

Web designer Allison Sugahara met Batio through a business partner who came to school with "VP of Social Media" Bidido Hid. (Three sources described Hogan as Batio's only long-term employee.) "He was really motivated and excited about the project," he said, and Sugahara has maintained all week of site development on a tough deadline. But when he tried to collect the $ 2,000 fee, Batio claimed he was strapped for cash. The phone number he provided stopped working, and his company was left with $ 150 in advance payments and a certificate for 50,000 shares of IdealFuture stock.

A friend of Sugahara, who asked to be identified only as Chris, ended up in a similar situation. He toured Batio's apartment building for a film he was shooting, and Batio offered him much-needed video production for the first Indiegogo campaign. "When he said something, he said it at a point you were like – wow, is it here now? It looks amazing," Chris said. But Batio kept canceling his invoices, and as the second campaign rolled around, Chris finally gave up on paying.

The backfests in 2014 didn't seem to look much like the background of IdealFuture, and the reporters. Where IF Convertible got the small press, Futurefön attracted attention from many tech sites – even CNBC, which featured the device in a "face off" article. The scope is undoubtedly but generally polite, acknowledging the company's good faith while noting that IdealFuture is perhaps aimed way too high.

But there is one place where Futurefön isn't just a cool weirdo: r / ShittyKickstarters, a Reddit forum for discussing dark crowdfunding campaigns. "The & # 39; Dragonfly & # 39 ;, a fake device that will never work, is about $ 500,000!" A member posted in late 2014. "End now. Recap in the comments. I'm dead inside."

Other members have vivisected the IdealFuture product vigorously. " It's like they found a list of the latest 'hot' stuff. on technology and just putting it in a blender, "wrote one. Others tried to disparage supporters' psychology:" Technology is magic. It sounds magic-er-er. So they didn't throw away the money. “Some crazy jokes about Batio’s inspirational quotes.” Any fool can make a complicated one. It's difficult to do something simple, ”a statement said. A poster of Shitty Kickstarters turned away: "Now I understand the vision behind two split-keyboard-bluetooth-docking-sort-of-Android-sort-of-Windows-sort-of-laptop / tablet / phones device. "

The community is hanging on." From the beginning, you could say it was completely wrong, "said one member, who went by the username Otidder." It looks delicate, the specifics are completely over. Like, there's no way they could sell the thing at the price they said they would. "Google searches have censored Xentex's legal drama and its stoppage IF exchange campaign, saying skeptics have suspected that Futurefön will never be sent. One member also found that another builder of a similar appearance to the laptop called Dragonfly in 2009.

The original creator of Dragonfly could warn supporters that IdealFuture could not deliver.As Batio, MIT graduate Ed Bullister began filing suit patent on the laptop as a side project in the '90s. (According to Bullister, the two had never met, and Bullister only learned about Futurefön when a Redditor contacted him.) he created a mechanical alliance to show manufacturers and investors.

But the more people talked to, the less custom a Abuo folding laptop seems. "Everything has to be new. The display is an unusual size. The keyboard is probably the easiest thing – but it has to be split in half, and you have a lot of wires that need to go through the hinges," he told Verge . "This is a massive project." One consultant said it would cost $ 100 million to bring to the market.

Many of the crowdfunding companies set unrealistic goals or hit those that don't. technical snags. But Bullister doesn't think a campaign like IdealFuture's, with its huge promise and relatively small budget, could be launched in good faith. "To make a device like this would be like making a new car line, just like making a Tesla. Or like making an iPad, ”he said. "It's beyond 'fake it' til you do it. & # 39; It's like, either it's my kindness that I shouldn't be in business, or – I just think, it's a fraud."


  predecessor to Futurefön.

The IF Convertible, a predecessor to Futurefön.
Photo: IdealFuture

Despite all this, IdealFuture went through the previous minuscule $ 10,000 goal, earning nearly $ 650,000 by the end of the campaign end date. continues to raise money through Indiegogo's brand new InDemand feature. IdealFuture has been posting updates to the first one, boasting about hiring a new team of engineers and working on a functional prototype. But slowly, supporters like Tschiltsch began to lose faith. "They are really active in their Indiegogo campaign. They are always posting updates and showing things," he said. "But it's all mockery all the time."

Members of r / ShittyKickstarters, who created a dedicated subreddit for Futurefön, began welcoming new skeptics. In mid-2016, they finally found what seemed to be clear evidence of fraud.

IdealFuture posted a video of Bridget Hogan walking around G Gwa, California, with the latest mock-up in the future. Critics played the footage, convinced it was a trick. Someone saw a 2014 date in a screenshot and called it, but Batio was convinced to close the claim, saying his filmmaker had just taken an old image from Google. Then, some wonderfully-defined Redditor zoomed in on two signs on the blackboard in the background of the shots. They referenced advertising campaigns in Facebook announcements, only to find matching posts from 2014 – long before the campaign was closed.

At that point, many supporters have already surrendered to Futurefön. "At first, it seemed like a project to get away from them," said Leland Babitch, one of the supporters. "But as it goes, the updates really have this tone of a cover – you know, kind of giving just enough to keep people up and feel like they're not being fooled by their money. … And then they just stopped. ”IdealFuture posted a last update in July 2016, saying it had found a manufacturing partner. Then, the page went dark forever.

At the time, Tschiltsch thought IdealFuture was just the latest in many startup people whose dreams were too big for reality. By the summer of 2016, Kickstarter and Indiegogo gadgets seemed to be clearly dangerous proposals. The impossibly thin CST-01 watch proved almost impossible to manufacture. The unique YotaPhone smartphone saw "unexpected delays" and initially failed to ship to the US. The Coolest Cool, previously known as a success story of Kickstarter, has been called one of the biggest crowdfunding disasters after a severe delay. "I just kind of wrote it," Tschiltsch said. He could almost forget about the project in 2018 – when he was called by an FBI agent.

The agent told Tschiltsch that "there was this case they were working on – that it was preparing to go to trial," and he began asking questions about Futurefön. What does Tschiltsch expect to get when he supports the campaign? Why did he do it? What did he think about the long IdealFuture update? After Tschiltsch answered the questions, the agent invited him to testify in court.

IdealFuture, it came out, just didn't go away. Batio has been charged with fraudulent charges spanning 13 years, from the early days of the Armada to the latest Indiegogo update. And the alleged total income is higher than the biggest IdealFuture skeptic imagined: in addition to the $ 725,000 he earned for Futurefön, he should collect $ 5 million from Armada investors, a Funding agreements are now like fraud. [19659057] "Sir. Batio has continued to work and against the odds of realizing his products."

This is a truly shocking development. The government cracked down on crowdfunding campaigns before, beginning in 2015, when the Federal Trade Commission followed the creator of a board game called The Doom to Come to Atlantic City. But "caveat emptor" is still a central principle of crowdfunding – and the line between a scam and an honest failure can be hard to find.

The case finally went to trial a year later. Tschiltsch testified, as did Farhood and many other supporters and former comrades. (Hogan, who many Futurefön skeptics consider as a scammer, did not appear or testify in the trial.) A jury convicted Batio of 12 mail and wire frauds, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His judgment is scheduled for September.

Batio strongly disputes the allegations against him, saying Armada was close to shipping a product and IdealFuture was on track to deliver Futurefön. He requested a new trial following the conviction, claiming that the jury had refused to discuss vital information and that the court had denied a critical witness request. The government, he said, is trying to "criminalize failure" – presenting normal startup setbacks as evidence of fraud. "The government misunderstood and misinterpreted the product development process," read the filing. "Sir. Batio continues to work and against the possibility of realizing his products."


  IdealFuture is used for Futurefön

Today, some IdealFuture supporters acknowledge that they view Futurefön in by the pink hues. "I'm very new and new about crowdfunding," said advocate Aurélien Cornil, who believes in IdealFuture's good intentions to the end. "I thought I could trust the people who posted the projects and Indiegogo reviewed the projects it hosted." But they are also angry at Indiegogo. While Batio clearly didn't need crowdfunding to raise millions of dollars, it helped him reach a huge audience in the short term. And at that time, many people seemed to be filing complaints – only to be ignored or dismissed.

A Redditor claimed to have flagged Futurefön in 2014, saying that Indiegogo support staff had promised to review it. In fact, Indiegogo has allowed IdealFuture to keep raising money for up to a month after its last update in 2016, even as angry supporters lined up on the platform in the comments. "I felt bad for some of the supporters, because they were obviously in over their heads," Otidder said. "Indiegogo really needs some of the responsibilities here – because they provide a platform for these people." A detailed 2016 exposé of Futurefön is rare but they are called "an existing threat" to the system. "If Indiegogo wears it under the rug, they are sending a signal to the market that fraudulent campaigns will not have any consequences," the author wrote.

Pillinger said he did not expect Indiegogo police in every campaign for potential fraud, but that the platform's email promotion felt like a seal of approval. "I think the reason it didn't occur to me that Futurefön could be a scam was definitely being promoted by Indiegogo," Pillinger said. "I would have been more skeptical if I had just spotted it on their site, or had been attacked by a stranger on Twitter, for example." The siegegogo even tweeted a fresh ad for Futurefön in 2016 as IdealFuture kept asking about its failure to deliver.

Indiegogo declined to be interviewed for this story, but a spokesperson said the campaigns are currently being reviewed by its trust team before being promoted. "We have evolved and learned from our past campaigns to improve and protect our backer community," he wrote.

But Futurefön's problems could have been bigger than crowdfunding platforms. Tech media rewards interesting concepts all the time – even if they almost never work, such as a bracelet that puts a working smartphone in your hand or the aforementioned dog mind-reading kit. In that context, the Futurefön hype does not seem strange. "There's an idea, and what people need is media," Farhood said. "It's like, hey, look at this cool video! I know it's not really a working prototype. But look how good this cool video is!" Even though sites are not endorsed by a product, they help it spread – and some people may decide it's worth throwing a few (or several hundred) dollars into it. [19659068] Hardware crowdfunding is still a huge market. After the early abuses and the inevitable collapse, Kickstarter and Indiegogo are trying to make the whole process more dangerous, even if it means changing how their services work. But for some of Futurefön's supporters, these sites are long gone. "I love it now," said Tschiltsch, who also supported the Pebble smartwatch, the coolest cooler, and the failed CST-01. "In my opinion, it's very difficult to be vetted, with the information you provide on these websites, for any kind of truly complex hardware project." He still supports the campaigns, but he remains on more accessible creative projects such as the animated horror film To Your Last Death which is currently set for the US premiere next month.

Babitch says that when he realized that IdealFuture was a fraud and not just a failure, he didn't just mess it up. "Ako din, marahil, sa parehong oras, ay napagtanto na ang maraming bagay na aking ay mayroon akong na talagang hindi lahat ay kawili-wili," sabi niya. Habang ang isang aparato tulad ng Futurefön ay maaaring maging kakaiba, ang mga pangunahing produkto tulad ng Microsoft Surface – isang mapapalitan na tablet na maaaring gumana nang palitan ang isang laptop – ay higit na kapaki-pakinabang. . "Marahil ay hindi ko pa rin natutunan ang aking aralin. Gusto ko ng teknolohiya. Gusto ko ang mga cool na bagay, "sabi niya. "Gusto ko ang pagkakaroon ng mga gadget."


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