The tablet and smart phone boom has proven fertile ground for armchair inventors. All it takes is a quick visit to an Apple Store or Best Buy to see scores of innovative and unexpected accessories that began as clever concepts in someone's head before blooming into sellable products that have helped launch small companies.
One of them is the TabletTail.
Designed by Denver-based Octa, a small team of self-described "artists, philosophers and inventors," it's a cleverly conceived multipurpose stand/handle designed for use with any slate with a smooth, non-porous back panel.
Like many useful inventions, the idea and its execution are both surprisingly simple.
Just press its circular suction cup dock up against the back of your slate (I tried it on second- and third-generation iPads, as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1), then press a button on its base four or five times to pump out the air and create a vacuum seal. Connections are satisfyingly firm, even when yanking at an angle. Pulling hard on the dock made me feel more likely to yank the back panel off my slate than break the seal. Yet the base can be instantly removed simply by gently tugging a tab on the cup's edge to kill the vacuum.
The tail, composed of a thick, pleasantly rubberish material, extends from the back and bends rather like a Gumby figure, firmly holding whatever shape you set. Common usage will see the dorsal ridge bent downward with the flukes turned slightly inward, creating a stable, grippy, three-point stand to view your tablet's display in landscape or portrait orientation. The malleable nature of the tail makes it easy to quickly adjust the viewing angle to whatever your circumstances require.
The stand came in handy in several situations. I used it to prop up my tablet and watch videos at the table, to create an ad-hoc easel to let my daughter play with her favourite painting app, and to set it vertically on my kitchen counter to display recipes while cooking.
Interestingly, you can also use it as a handle, creating an alternative way to hold your tablet in one hand while tapping on a virtual keyboard or playing games. Its rounded back fits comfortably in one's palm, the weight of the slate falling straight down the forearm, eliminating strained thumbs and wrists.
Of course, it's not suitable for every situation. My wife had little success using it to prop an iPad on her lap while lounging on the couch. Ditto when using it in bed, where a lack of hard, flat surfaces and awkward angles renders most of the tail's features less than effective. So it's not quite a stand for all occasions.
My only serious concern is that the seal will somehow fail. Should this happen at an inopportune moment – perhaps as you hold your tablet while waiting on a concrete platform for a bus or train – you could find yourself suddenly looking at $500 worth of busted bits and bobbles at your feet. Thankfully, this didn't occur during my evaluation, but I did notice the seal was noticeably looser after it was left connected for just over a week. Best refresh the vacuum regularly.
The TabletTail is currently available on Octa's website for $50. The start-up says it plans to release additional accessories (the tail can pop on and off the suction base to be replaced by...something) before the end of the year, so we'll soon see if the company's inventors have any other bright ideas.