Fighting pinky fatigue

Smartphone accessory inventors embark on product development

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If you use a smartphone, you may be familiar with “pinky fatigue,” since the pinky holds the heaviest weight of the device at the bottom.

The latest generation of smartphones has screen sizes approaching six inches, creeping ever closer to tablet dimensions. While this makes for better video-watching, it can also make the devices tough to hold with one hand.

Danin Jensen wanted to give pinkies a break, so he came up with GripTab. It’s a curved resting place that takes pressure off the littlest finger. The plastic device adheres to the back of a phone with 3M semi-permanent tape, and the user can press a button to pop a tab out at the bottom as needed.

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The GripTab adheres to the back of a smartphone and can be extended to assist with holding larger models.

“Ever since I had upgraded to an iPhone 6, all of a sudden it was too big to use with just one hand,” Jensen said. “It’s when I first started thinking there was a problem with how I was holding my phone, and where I was placing my pinky on the bottom of it was really uncomfortable.”

That was in May 2015. He worked up a prototype with the help of Muskego’s LBJ Product Solutions LLC, and by December, Jensen had a provisional patent on GripTab.

“After I came up with it, then I started going online just to make sure that nobody else had the exact same thing,” he said.

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PopSockets and iRing have slightly different approaches to the problem, but there’s nothing identical to GripTab. Their existence and success, though, show Jensen there’s a market for the GripTab.

“For me, it’s more comfortable to hold, it’s more professional looking and it’s definitely more durable,” Jensen said of his product.

“I’ve had interest from Otterbox,” he said. “They have a modular case called a Universe Case where you can attach different attachments to the back of the phone and they said they would be interested in selling the product for use with their case.”

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But first, GripTab must make its first production run.

While he has only created prototypes so far, Jensen is determined to manufacture the product as close to home as possible. He’s finalizing his business plan and hopes to raise $200,000 from investors to produce the first batch of the product.

When he’s not inventing smartphone accessories, Jensen is a road construction foreman for Menomonee Falls-based Pavement Maintenance Inc.

“I’m always modifying construction equipment, making it better, more useful for us, but never thought I would be filing a patent,” Jensen said. “I can’t use my phone without this thing on here now, so I’m going to do everything I can to help other people have the same benefit.”

Mequon startup BiKASE also aims to make users’ lives easier with its smartphone accessories.

BiKASE got its start with the Handy Andy, a clear-front phone case that mounts to a bike’s handlebars.

The company just completed its third successful Kickstarter campaign, raising about $7,500 through the crowdfunding site for its Uni Car Mount, a universal magnetic smartphone mount that clips into the air vent in any car.

Its previous Kickstarter effort was even more successful; BiKASE raised more than $27,000 from nearly 600 funders last year for its Super Band, a polycarbonate and rubber band which holds small items in place on a bicycle.

“Our goal really with the Kickstarter was to use the Kickstarter platform as advertising,” said Kevin Troyanek, sales manager for BiKASE. “This is a product that people want and there’s a demand for it. The Kickstarter paid for the first production run.”

And it got the word out. BiKASE sold 6,000 more Super Bands from July 1 to the end of 2016.

Founded in 2011 and with just three employees, BiKASE has created about 70 products. Troyanek and owner Chad Buchanan design and develop the products, and then they are manufactured in Taiwan.

BiKASE’s first product was called the Handy Andy. It’s a phone case with a clear front that straps to the center of the handlebars and allows a bicyclist to see who is calling.

“I’ve done a lot of product development for other companies,” said Buchanan, who has a day job developing products for manufacturers. “In 2010, I was riding my bike and every time someone would call, I would have my phone in the back of my seat pouch. By the time I pulled over, the call went to voicemail or it was a sales call or some kind of call I didn’t want to take. Having a family, you never know (when) someone needs something.”

The Handy Andy took off when customers found it could be useful for playing Pokemon Go or other mobile games on a bike. But BiKASE didn’t have such an easy go of it at first.

“At the time, I was only thinking about one product,” Buchanan said. “There was really no product out there like it that I knew of. Even after I got my first thousand made, a lot of bike shops around the country didn’t think it was a good idea.”

BiKASE products, most of which are bike accessories, are now sold at bike stores nationwide. Among the first stores to sell them were Extreme Ski and Bike in Thiensville and Wheel & Sprocket, which has four area stores.

The Uni Car Mount is BiKASE’s first foray into the automotive smartphone accessory

“With the car mount, we basically looked at the car mounts in the marketplace and thought, ‘Gosh, we’ve come up with a better system that fits into the car vent,” Troyanek said. “Our bracket basically fit into a vent without pulling out as you took your phone off the car mount.”

“It’s got a patent pending way in which it attaches to the car vent,” Buchanan said.

While the smartphone accessory market is competitive, BiKASE sets itself apart by offering an affordable product and emphasizing customer service, Troyanek said.

“They’re not super high-end; they’re not low-end. We think they’re economical. And they’re usable,” Troyanek said.

BiKASE is now pulling in about $1 million in revenue. So far in 2017, its revenue is up 40 percent over last year.

“Most of the ideas are when I feel like there’s a need in the marketplace,” Buchanan said, such as the adjustable water bottle holder that can fit both his disposable water bottle and his daughter’s reusable water bottle.

“I had a yearning to develop some products that I thought would be useful in the marketplace,” Buchanan said. “It’s really just driven by a passion and love of developing products.”

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