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Designs on your handset: a smart smartphone accessory

gadgets Updated: Feb 05, 2013 11:44 IST

popSLATE is one of a growing number of companies turning to crowd-sourced funding to validate their concepts and turn their ideas into reality.

popSLATE's first product, a smart cover for the iPhone 5, set to launch later in 2013, has been gaining a large amount of media coverage. Rather than simply protecting the handset, the cover also adds a rear-facing 'always-on' 4-inch electric ink screen that can be used to display images and app alerts.

When asked by email how the idea for popSLATE came about, co-founder Greg Moon replies, "We saw that the current paradigm of the smartphone experience -- targeted, time-limited interactions via a single screen on the front phone -- was beginning to plateau, so we wanted to develop solutions that complement and expand that experience."

In other words, handsets need a second screen. Smartphones are perfect for doing one thing at a time. The Windows Phone 8 may have its ‘Live Tiles' interface, but on the whole (ie, with an Android or Apple handset), only one app (other than listening to music) can truly be open at any one time.

The popSLATE 'smart' iPhone 5 case. AFP

Therefore, making the screen bigger -- which will be one of the headline handset trends of this year -- is not going to make up for this lack of in-built multitasking.

However, stick a second screen on the rear of the device and a whole host of new opportunities arise. As well as providing a very robust protective shell for the handset, the popSLATE also adds an extremely low-energy, always-on electric ink (like those used in eReaders) display to its rear.

A new model of smartphone interaction
Moon envisions its role as a means of capturing and displaying images via an app to begin with, but in time the platform could be opened up to third-party developers for integration with other apps and services.

"It unlocks a wholly new smartphone interaction model, whereby one can transition seamlessly between episodic use scenarios on the front and ambient, continuous use scenarios on the back," he says.

The popSLATE smart iPhone case will be the first in what the company hopes will be a long line of products and smartphone concepts. AFP

popSLATE is one of a growing number of companies and product ideas that have gone from concept to reality thanks to crowd-sourced funding pioneered by web platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, an approach which not only provides access to investment but is a guaranteed way of testing the market for a product. If no one pledges, no one is interested.

"[Indiegogo] allows people around the world to vote with their wallets. Over 1,500 funders contributed towards over 2,500 popSLATEs, and we surpassed our goal in just 10 days. Behind the scenes, incredible partnering opportunities emerged.

Most importantly, we forged a strong, early community of users, whom we will continue to engage as our wellspring for feedback, inspiration, and co-creation," explains Moon of his experience of crowd-sourced funding.

Moon says that most interest for the product came from the US and Japan, but a large chunk of investment also came from Europe, plus there were one or two surprises: "We also had sales from unexpected places like Malta, Kenya, and South Africa. Indiegogo provides a global audience, and web-based media and social channels amplify this reach. The French really stand out on Twitter. Lately about every 4th tweet is in French."

Next up: cases for other devices
The company is targeting June as the deadline for the release of its first product and then hopes to turn its attention to other smartphones and fuctions.

Smartphone covers by Yeah! at the 2013 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas. AFP

"One thing that we haven't publicized yet is development of the popSLATE marketplace for premium content, which will offer artists and designers a new channel to get their work out on a global scale. Moreover, popSLATE for iPhone represents only the first step. Other handsets and portables are squarely on our near-term roadmap, including additional Apple products and leading Android devices," reveals Moon, who believes that the smartphone experience is already ripe for innovation and expansion.

"In the near future, we foresee personal use of pervasive, networked, low-power screens, on and off the phone, with the smartphone as the hub. This network of screens will keep people informed and engaged as they traverse multiple settings throughout the course of their day. popSLATE aims to lead in the realization of this vision," he says.