As time goes on, iPad stands are on rocky ground

By Nathaniel Mott , written on November 15, 2012

From The News Desk

Compass. Facet. Boomerang. Though this might seem like verbal schizophrenia (or the world's worst scavenger hunt), it's actually a list of iPad stands, three of which have appeared on Kickstarter. While I agree that variety is the spice of life – "You can't make cinnamon toast with nutmeg," or something like that – the fact that I could spend all day simply finding and listing all of the iPad stands that have been released has become wearisome.

Put another way: I can't stand it.

Objectively, iPad stands make sense. Whether it's the desire to hold the iPad at the proper angle for watching a movie or trying to find a way to effectively type on the onscreen keyboard, stands offer better stability than a lap and better angles than a table or desk. Given the diverse use cases associated with the tablet – it can act as a good reading device, a writing tool, a second screen, etc. – the sheer number of new accessories makes sense.

Particularly avid readers might remember that when I first wrote about Facet, one of the more recent iPad stands that tried to find success on Kickstarter (and succeeded), I was excited by its novel form factor and proposed use case. I like well-designed objects, and I like not getting hit in the face by my iPad – Facet and I were a perfect fit. Or, we could have been; I never ended up backing the project.

Hell, I barely use the Compass, my iPad stand of choice. I'm pretty sure it's collecting dust in a moving box somewhere, buried beneath assorted cables and chargers. I moved over three months ago, and there hasn't been one occasion where I thought, "Hey, do you know what I really need? Something to prop my iPad up." This after spending $40 and numerous hours researching and traveling to the "local" (read: hour-and-a-half away) Apple Store trying to find the perfect stand.

To be fair, there are people who use iPad stands and swear by their efficiency. InCase' Origami stand seems to be a blogger-favorite, and someone has to be buying the things, or there wouldn't be so many new releases. People like the idea of propping their iPads up and watching videos or writing or doing whatever it is that requires a perfect 30-degree angle to get done.

Unfortunately, shipments and purchases don't always reflect real-world usage. It's not hard to imagine other iPad stand owners letting their accessories sit unused, and, for some bizarre reason, it's easy to see that same person buying a new stand, because this is the one that they'll use, promise. Gadget lovers are notoriously bad about thinking that a new tool will somehow get more use than an old one. (This is the same principle as children thinking that they'll play with a new toy more than the ones in their toy chest.)

The truth is that they won't. Sure, there are rare exceptions, but often it isn't the tool that's the problem, it's the owner. How many people do you know who are convinced that they'd be a great guitar player if they could get their hands on a Les Paul, or the next great artist if they got the right kind of paintbrush? Probably at least one. The truth is that, while a great tool can improve an artist's work, it won't help someone who can't draw a straight line or master the intro to "Smoke in the Water." The same principle holds true for people who think that a stand will transform their iPad into a workhorse.

Then there's the limitation associated with iPad stands in the first place. Where do you use your iPad (or other, applicable tablet)? Sure, some people might use it in just one place, but many carry it from room to room, lounging on the couch, laying in bed, sitting in a chair – the iPad was made to accomodate each of those use cases. It is a mobile product, and iPad stands are inherently immobile. They're simply one more thing that have to be carried around the house or stowed in a bag, and that can easily lead to being abandoned in one room or at the bottom of a backpack.

One stand, Slope, is embracing this fact. It attaches to a desk (or table, or, from its Kickstarter page, a car) and holds your iPad at a 66-degree angle. And that's it. There's no shape shifting, no multiple viewing angles, no pretense of being backpack-ready. If you want to use your iPad as a second screen without any hassle, Slope wants to have your back.

Whether or not this will lead to sales or a change in the way we think about iPad stands remains to be seen. And even if it is successful, it begs the question: If you want to have your iPad held up at an angle similar to that of most laptop displays, why not purchase a laptop? Or, if you really want to go buck wild, why not get one of those new Windows 8 doodads that can pivot and clasp and slide to support multiple form factors?

iPad stands are fundamentally flawed, and fall prey to the accessory's equivalent to Murphy's Law – if it can be forgotten, it will be forgotten. A new name, shape, or potential use case isn't going to change that, and manufacturers are moving quickly to make stands unnecessary. Hell, if Apple includes a kickstand in the next iPad – something similar to Microsoft's Surface tablet, perhaps – all of these stand makers are screwed.