By Michael Fisher | May 11, 2012 4:41 PM
You know what day it is? It’s Friday. The Boston office of Pocketnow (read: my padded cell) has seen a lot of hot, hot editorial action this week, including some webOS-to-Android video and a scintillating discussion on ecosystems. But it’s not time to put this week to bed yet, because I’ve got a question: where the flip are all the tablet kickstands?
Most of you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t: the kickstand is a hinge-mounted strip of metal or plastic that flips out from the back of a mobile device and props it up at an angle on a tabletop or other flat surface. It’s easy to visualize for my American compatriots: you just need to recall the last time you were out at a bar with one of those insufferable owners of the original HTC Evo, smugly propping their phone up to face them at their booth in the Uno’s Chicago Grill, hiding the display from we curious onlookers because we’re so interested in their text messages.
What are you hiding from us?! What’s your secret, invisible man?
Okay, I admit it: I was one of those original-Evo owners, and I really enjoyed my kickstand. In fact, when I (briefly) considered picking up that device’s successor, the Evo 3D, I was crestfallen to discover that HTC had removed that accessory from the design. And just a few weeks ago, when the Evo 4G LTE was announced, I was amped that they’d brought it back.
You’re asking why, and it’s a valid question. Especially valid, considering how impossible it is to rock a kickstand on your mobile phone without looking like a pretentious jerque. Yeah, I spelled it the
wrong fancy way. Just to prove there’s no limit to the kickstand’s far-reaching grandiloquent effects.
These old-timey synonyms doin’ anything for ya?
Let’s get serious: the kickstand is awesome because, while it’s completely unnecessary, it’s also surprisingly useful. It’s one of those features you don’t notice or miss until you’ve used it on your daily driver. Yes, putting your phone down on the table will serve your needs just fine nine times out of ten; the resulting viewing angle doesn’t require craning your neck or anything. But it is more clumsy, and less enjoyable, than propping your phone up like your own personal TV. And even if you’re not dealing with classified memos or watching risqué content in public, it’s sometimes nice to know you’re keeping your screen to yourself, rather than sharing it -along with your mozzarella sticks- with the doofus across the table. Finally, if your device is one which insists on sticking its giant camera lens out the back for the whole world to see and scratch -and if it’s an HTC phone, odds are that’s the truth- kickstands are a big help in keeping that big beautiful lens scratch-free.
Seriously, stop with this.
So what does all this have to do with tablets?
Well, software optimization and capabilities and chipsets and “entirely new class of computing device” considerations aside, what are tablets if not giant smartphones? (I’m talking from a casing perspective here, people, so don’t flip out; I love tablets.) The tablet form factor would be an excellent one to host the venerable, underappreciated kickstand.
In fact, they’d be better vehicles for the feature. Tablets have taken over for notebooks and netbooks in a lot of ways, but none more so than media consumption. Watching video and casually browsing the web are fun on a smartphone, but glorious on the massive displays tablets offer. Thing is, because they don’t have the built-in anchor of the keyboard like laptops do, tablets suck at standing up by themselves. Why, then, are we forced to buy a case for our iPads and Galaxy Tabs and HP TouchPads (I know, I know) in order to get them to stand at a viewable angle? As PhoneDog’s Taylor Martin pointed out in a similar article last fall, there’s no reason we should be leaning our tablets against butter dishes in this day and age.
We also shouldn’t have to buy something that looks like exercise equipment for robots.
It can’t just be the accessory lobby forcing us into this position, though; there are other considerations that OEMs have to contend with, like space inside the casing and MTBF ratings (I’ve wanted to use that term in an article since reading it in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual in 1992; it means “mean time between failures.” Hooray!). Space is at a premium inside tablets, especially now that the race-to-the-thinnest mentality has made the leap from phones, and installing a moving part like a kickstand will necessarily increase the incidence of mechanical failures, and therefore warranty claims.
Don’t believe me?
Also, despite its utility, the kickstand doesn’t strike me as a particularly “Apple-like” idea. I doubt even the artist-engineers in Cupertino could come up with something sufficiently sleek and objectively “beautiful” to satisfy the rigid requirements of the iDevice design aesthetic. So I don’t see a kickstand making its way to the iPad anytime soon. And that’s important because, whatever you think of Apple’s device family, you have to admit that the industry tends to follow its cues when it comes to hardware design.
Fortunately, Apple’s iPad isn’t the only game in town, and at least one other manufacturer has seen the wisdom in adding a little bicycle flair to the tablet experience. Archos’ “10-1″ tablet from last year featured a kickstand with adjustable angles for multiple use scenarios.
That’s a kickstand. Not a robot poison scorpion tail, as it appears at first glance.
Sadly, that’s an older tablet, and we haven’t seen the trend take hold in the newer offerings. It looks as though, for the foreseeable future, we may be locked in to spending another $30-$50 on cases that do the mundane work of holding a tablet up at an angle for us. Which is a real shame for those of us who abhor covering up our beautiful devices with cheap-looking cases. But I don’t have a choice: I use my iPad to view the recipes for all my complicated dishes, and these eggs aren’t gonna hard-boil themselves. So I’m off to find a case with a kickstand to replace the butter dish, cutting board, or whatever else I was propping my tablet up on before this column filled me with dread at its total lack of angled usability.
Do you care about kickstands on tablets? If so, are you buying the new Evo 4G LTE? Or do you perhaps own an Archos 10-1? Anything you wanna say about kickstands, you should bundle up into a comment, and attach it down below. We’ll chat some more once I get back from buying a case. Which I hate that I’m now forced to do.
Thanks a lot, tablet manufacturers.