Apple's Smart Cover for iPad was an incredible invention when it debuted alongside the iPad 2 in early 2011, but multi-functional tablet stands have evolved significantly in a little over a year. Microsoft's solution was to invent a tablet with a built-in kickstand and an ultra-thin keyboard built directly into the cover. Logitech debuted an iPad keyboard companion that Apple could be proud of. But making your tablet stand the way you want it to stand seemed like it would require an expensive solution.
Los Angeles app maker Dotan Saguy gave this iPad problem a lot of thought, and he dreamt up a solution that could be easily manufacturable, easy-to-use, and best of all, cheap for the consumer. With a few simple adjustments, Saguy was able to transform Apple's Smart Cover for iPad -- which is a fantastic cover but an extremely limited stand -- into a fully functional cover that could let the iPad stand at many different angles to maximize either typing, web surfing, game playing or viewing. All it took was a couple of plastic clips.
"Like many ideas, this kind of came out of nowhere," Saguy said in his Kickstarter video. "I was just having breakfast while trying to prop up my iPad against a jar of jelly. And it just kept sliding like that. That's when I came up with the idea that if I could just isolate some of these folds in the [Smart] Cover, that would do the trick. That's why I created the Smarter Stand."
Kickstarter definitely believed in Saguy's invention. With less than 20 days to go until funding ends, the first-time Kickstarter has about 6,760 funders pledging nearly $120,000 toward manufacturing these tiny transformative plastic straps.
So, what the world wants to know is, how well does this invention perform?
Review: Why Cheap Materials Can Be Costly
I was thrilled to be among the first to receive Saguy's first shipment of Smarter Stands for iPad. Before I get into what this solution lacks, I'd like to praise what it does right.
One of the best features of Apple's Smart Cover is that it's a lightweight way to keep your iPad protected. The Cover is about one-fourth of a pound, and the whole shebang -- a New iPad with the Smart Cover on -- only weighs 1.73 pounds. Saguy didn't want to eliminate the light form factor of the tablet with his design, and his clips succeed in doing this.
Saguy's Smarter Stands looked to eliminate one of the few limitations of the Smart Cover, which was the viewing angles.
"The original positions of the Smart Cover is the typing position, which is great to type with, but for anything else, it's too low and I have to peer over it," Saguy said in his video. "There's an 80 degree position, but it's too high."
As advertised, Saguy's Smarter Stands can hold the iPad at many other angles, including 33 degrees for Web browsing, 45 degrees for watching videos, and a 20 degree angle to use the iPad as a "private" typing stand, which essentially blocks anyone in front of you -- not behind you -- from seeing what you're typing.
Unfortunately, the Smarter Stand does not work well with just these clips alone. Saguy also throws in three non-slip pads which hold the front of the iPad in place as you adjust the clips on the rear. Without putting these non-stick, non-slip pads, the Smarter Stand is not very stable.
"We tried a few different materials and colors for the non-slip pads," Saguy said in his ninth Kickstarter update. "The goal there was to make the non-slip pad... well non-slip, as unnoticeable as possible, easy to apply, and make sure it didn't leave any marks on the iPad if it had to be removed. I'm happy to report that we found what seems to be the perfect solution: a silicone pad that matches the aluminum back of the iPad. The adhesive is made by 3M and it's specially designed to stick well yet not leave any marks when removed. Very cool stuff."
The non-slip pads are easy to take on and off, but that's also an issue. I personally had a difficult time getting mine to stay in one spot, as the non-slip pads would, over a short amount of time, be pushed off the iPad due to the sheer friction of typing on the tablet's surface. This issue only arose because the Smarter Stand has another issue: The clips are not very smooth.
The clips needed to be sturdy enough to grip the sides of the iPad and hold it in place while gravity and the user's fingers applied pressure to the surface. Saguy must have thought about this issue for a long time, but the solution he settled on solves one problem while causing another. The clips are sturdy, yes, but when if the user applies any pressure to the iPad while typing, browsing or drawing, for example, the iPad wants to slip. The pads work as good buffers, but they are simply far too easy to wear down and wear off.
And that's the issue with this material. The non-slip pads are an integral part of the success of the Smarter Stand, and yet it's nearly impossible to keep the iPad in place while changing the Smarter Stand's viewing angle: Too much pressure is being applied on the bottom of the iPad to make the non-slip pads work. So not only is it annoying that consumers have to keep track of these tiny little non-slip pads, but they only work for a limited time.
The fact is, Saguy's plastic clips are good enough to turn your Smart Cover into a Smart Stand, but it's not very good if you plan on touching the device a lot, which is the whole point of owning an iPad. The clips make the Smart Cover a very unstable stand, and unfortunately, moving the clips around to change viewing angles is not a quick and fluid movement. You must take down your iPad and work each of the clips individually. It's overly arduous.
Where Saguy Goes From Here
There's a reason why so many people backed this project. Saguy had a great idea -- to build a cheap and affordable accessory that could make a Smart Cover into a Smarter Stand/Cover hybrid -- but he just didn't execute it to its full potential on the first go-around.
I personally give this guy a lot of credit. Saguy is a software guy at heart, and he makes apps; for his first hardware endeavor, Saguy was very successful. He had an idea to make a great product greater and he did what he could to make it happen.
I still believe Saguy's design can work. I just think he didn't have the right materials.
Saguy needs to remove the non-slip pads from the equation and figure out a way to make the two clips not only latch onto the iPad, but to make it sturdy enough so the iPad can be typed on or browsed with relative vigor. The clips need to be strong, but they also need to be easily detached from the side and slideable along the Smart Cover.
At the moment, Saguy's Smarter Stand is none of these things, and it doesn't even touch the best stand/cover/keyboard solution for iPad, which is $99. But Saguy's solution, for 1/10th the price of the best iPad accessory, is way more than 1/10th of the quality of the best accessory.
Saguy should feel good about what he's built, but he should be encouraged by the issues with his first batch to create an even better Smarter Stand sequel that's cheap, sturdy, functional, and highly reusable. It's not there yet, but it could be.