The Accessory Economy
When Microsoft unveiled its Surface tablet, the most dazzling part of the presentation was the smart cover that doubled as a keyboard, an innovation that sets it apart from the industry-leading iPad. A few Apple fans have pointed out that you can buy a keyboard for the iPad as well, and it’s true that plenty of third parties have created keyboards that work with the tablet – albeit none that are as seamlessly integrated as the Surface’s seems to be.
But that got us thinking: Keyboards aren’t the only accessory you can buy to spice up your iPad. An entire side industry of third parties has sprung up to produce accessories for the iPad, and while some provide protection or basic functionality through simple cases or keyboards, others push the envelope in interesting and sometimes bizarre ways. Here are a few of the most eye-catching.
Photo credit: CELLUON
The Pillow Case
The various cases and covers for the iPad provide varying levels of protection, with some skimping on coverage to emphasize the tablet’s natural beauty and others swaddling it in rubber and plastic to protect your investment. This case – one of a few of its kind – falls clearly into the latter camp, actually embedding your tablet in a pillow that we’d imagine would protect your tablet from most impacts (provided it landed pillow-side down, anyway). Just don’t bring it to a pillow fight.
This particular product doesn’t get very positive reviews, though, and we have to admit we’re not sure what the point of it is – it’s not as if you’re actually going to carry your iPad around in a pillow for protection, nor does it look very practical to use as an actual pillow. The only real function seems to be holding it comfortably in your lap, and if that’s what your shooting for, there seem to be better alternatives.
Photo credit: AMAZON
The Floor Stand
The new iPad weighs just under a pound-and-a-half, and while that may not sound like much, your arm is still going to get tired if you try to hold it for extended periods of time. While you could hold it in your lap in one of the aforementioned pillow cases, this stand provides a far greater range of viewing angles. Essentially a floor lamp with an iPad holder instead of a light fixture, this accessory from TaoTronics boasts a 360-degree range of motion and adjustable height. That means you can mount it for use while standing or sitting, and you can even place it behind your bed to hover your tablet over your head while you lie there.
It sells for $69.99 on Amazon.
Photo credit: TAOTRONICS
The Quill Stylus
While Palm Pilots and other early touchscreen gadgets made use of styluses, Steve Jobs famously hated them, and you’ll probably never see an Apple device ship with one. Still, some people prefer to use a stylus rather than their fingers to use the iPhone and iPad, so accessory makers offer a wide range of styluses compatible with the devices.
The strangest of the bunch is one that seems designed to evoke the old-fashioned quill pen, though it somewhat undermines this retro feel by offering it in a wide range of colors (we don’t think they signed the Declaration of Independence with a hot pink quill). The product, which works on all touchscreen devices, seems to be mainly available on eBay, where it can be purchased for around $3 a pop.
Photo credit: THINKSTOCK
The Etch-a-Sketch Case
This retro-inspired case doesn’t just let you pretend that your $500 tablet is a $10 toy – those knobs are actually functional, allowing you to use your tablet like a real Etch-a-Sketch. It even erases when you shake the tablet.
Well, that’s the idea, anyway. The case got a lot of coverage in the tech media when it was first announced, but as of now it’s only a prototype. The brains behind the project attempted to raise capital for its production through crowdfunding site Kickstarter, but as of last month they had wound up falling well short of the $75,000 goal. It remains to be seen whether it will be resubmitted for the consideration of the internet’s amateur venture capitalists, but we’re hopeful that this one someday becomes available for purchase.
In the meantime, you can buy an Etch-a-Sketch case for $40 – but note that it’s just a case, not a functional accessory.
Photo credit: 30PINS.COM
The Louis Vuitton Case
When the iPad first came out, owning one was something of a status symbol, a sign that you were ahead of the gadget curve. Now that Apple has moved tens of millions of units and they’ve become ubiquitous, elitists need another way of signaling that they’re better than you.
Enter the iPad case from Louis Vuitton, which is most notable for its mind-blowing price tag: The basic slipcover case will cost you $455, almost as much the baseline model of the new iPad. If you want the fold-open, case-and-stand combo, it will cost you a whopping $750 – more expensive than all but one of the iPad models sold by Apple.
And if that’s not expensive enough for you? Chanel doubles down on the luxury, offering a lambskin case that reportedly sells for upwards of $1,500.
Hey, you’re worth it.
Photo credit: LOUIS VUITTON
We’re always a bit baffled when we see people using their iPad as a camera. Besides looking pretty ridiculous holding up a 10-inch tablet computer to snap a photo, you’re also only getting 5 megapixels out of the newest model of the iPad, which may very well be inferior to the resolution of the much-smaller smartphone in your pocket.
Still, the iPad does allow you to snap, edit and email your photos all from a single widescreen device, which may be an attractive prospect to some professional photographers. That’s where the Padcaster and Lenscaster come in. The Padcaster is a case that allows you to mount your tablet on a tripod for steady photos and video, and also allows you to attach a flash and external microphone. Meanwhile, the Lenscaster attachment is an adapter that lets you attach an SLR lens, giving you depth of field and optical zoom for professional-grade photos.
The accessories are currently available for pre-order; the Padcaster costs $149, and getting the Lenscaster as well will add an extra $40.
Photo credit: PADCASTER
The Scottevest Travel Vest
When Amazon introduced its competing tablet, the 7-inch Kindle Fire, one of its selling points (besides the low price) was that it could fit in your back pocket (well, some back pockets). By contrast, the 10-inch iPad couldn’t come close to fitting in anyone’s pocket, forcing you to carry it around in a case or bag of some kind.
Unless, that is, you’re wearing something from Scottevest. The company makes a number of jackets and vests specifically designed for travelers who want to carry around their electronic devices and other valuables without having to lug around a backpack. And certain sizes of their gear even have an internal pocket large enough to accommodate an iPad or 11-inch MacBook Air. That means you don’t need to choose between leaving your pricey tablet behind in the hotel room or having to carry around a backpack all day. The iPad-compatible jackets run between $100 and $200.
If you want something a little more stylish and office-appropriate, you can get this iPad suit from Mohan’s.
Photo credit: SCOTTEVEST
While it isn’t exactly competing with the Xbox just yet, the iPad can hold its own as a gaming platform. And we’re not just talking about simple mobile games like Angry Birds – a number of action and sports games now take advantage of the iPad’s big screen, including versions of Madden NFL and Assassin’s Creed. In lieu of an actual controller, these games use on-screen buttons and directional pads, but the downside is that gamers don’t get any of the tactile feedback to which they’re accustomed.
A number of companies have stepped into the breach to right this wrong, offering physical joysticks that stick onto the screen above the virtual one and recreate the feel of a real gamepad. The prettiest and best-reviewed of the bunch is this offering from accessory specialist Logitech, which retails for $20 and has a long list of compatible games. For a more retro look you can go with the Joystick-It, but user reviews aren’t exactly glowing. And if you’re willing to spend a bit more money you can get the iCade Arcade Cabinet, which houses your iPad in a miniature arcade box and lets you play Atari classics the old-fashioned way.
Photo credit: LOGITECH
In addition to the numerous speaker docks available for the iPad, you can also hook it up to any set of external speakers with a headphone jack. But those speakers require an external power source and tend not to be very portable, meaning that if you want to show a video or play music to a group of friends, you’re often stuck with the tablet’s tiny, built-in speakers.
The Amplifiear provides an analog solution, amplifying the speaker sounds with the modern equivalent of an old gramophone. As the name would indicate, the plastic cup fits around the iPad in a way that’s a bit reminiscent of a cartoon ear, in the process curving and amplifying the speaker sounds toward the user.
Like the Etch-a-Sketch case, the Amplifiear comes to us via Kickstarter, but it’s been more successful raising funds, blowing right past its $10,000 goal. Those who pledged funds to the Kickstarter should be getting their Amplifiears soon, and the makers say an online store will be up soon.
Photo credit: AMPLIFIEAR
The Magic Cube Keyboard
This isn’t classified as strictly an iPad accessory, as it can also be used with PCs, Macs and even iPhones. Still, we imagine many people are buying it with their iPad in mind, which makes it one of the weirdest and most innovative iPad keyboards on the market.Rather than a physical keyboard to which your iPad is attached or wirelessly linked, the Magic Cube is a small box which uses a laser to project the image of a keyboard on a surface; just “type” on your work surface as you would on a normal keyboard and the Cube will detect your finger movements.
There are a few reasons why consumers might be wary of this one. The price comes in at $170, and the user reviews are somewhat mixed, with some users praising the device and others saying it’s hard to get used to and not ready for primetime. Furthermore, most people who get an external keyboard for the iPad are doing so because they don’t like the lack of tactile feedback from a virtual keyboard, and this one doesn’t exactly rectify that problem.
Still, if the price tag doesn’t scare you off, this is clearly the coolest external keyboard you can get for the iPad.
--By Matt Brownell
Photo credit: CELLUON