John Willenborg loves to take his iPhone on his motorcycle. He likes to attach it to his helmet, fly down a dirt track, spin out of control, crash into a mudbank and record the whole thing in HD.
Back in UC Berkeley, he used to record his races with a GoPro camcorder but found it fiddly and distracting. At a big race, after forgetting his SD card for the hundredth time, he finally just wrapped his iPod Nano (the version with a camera) in duct tape and stuck it to the speedometer of his bike. Somehow, it worked.
“I realized I had this perfectly good camera in my iPod, and here I had to pay hundreds of bucks for this other thing,” Willenbord says.
That was the first prototype of the Optrix HD, a mountable, reinforced shell designed to turn an iPhone into a GoPro-style sports camcorder – making it versatile enough to clip onto a bike helmet or climbing harness and tough enough to stay intact when you crash into a boulder.
The way Willenborg and Optrix co-founder Jonathan Gray see it, while sports camcorders like GoPro and Contour are light and durable, you’ve already shelled out for the iPhone’s HD camera. It shoots in the same resolution, plus you can view and share footage on the fly.
The only difference is that the iPhone isn’t completely indestructible. Optrix fixes that.
Videos on the company’s site show Optrix-equipped iPhones on skateboard half-pipes, barreling down ski slopes and getting run over by a speeding truck. When one motocross racer didn’t mount the case correctly, it flew off his bike at 130mph, landed in a mud puddle and then got hit by another bike. “He picked the thing up off the track and it was in perfect condition,” says Willenborg. “We wanted to make the thing rugged, and I think we accomplished that.”
Don’t worry if you’re not the daredevil type. Fans have found other uses for a mountable iPhone case. One cooking show host affixed it to his hat so that he could get overhead shots without blocking the camera when he leaned over the stove. Another man used it to keep his hands free while filming the birth of his child (That one didn’t make it online.)
The Discovery Channel even requested several units for point-of-view footage in reality show Dirty Jobs. It gave Willenborg some valuable market research: “We now know that our case is bat guano and manure proof.”
Apple’s hardware features give Optrix a few more tricks. The Optrix app can use the GPS to start and stop recording automatically based on when you move. Another app gives the footage a data overlay that shows things like speed, location and g-forces, so you can prove to your friends that, yes, you were going like 40 mph down that trial.
Of course, Optrix has its disadvantages. You have to actually own an iPhone first, and you’re out both phone and case if it gets lost or stolen. The single, closed bodies of the GoPro and Contour are slightly tougher than Optrix’s two-part setup, and their SD card memory systems gives them flexible storage. Those cameras can also be made completely waterproof, and while you can drop Optrix in a creek, you wouldn’t take it snorkeling.
Designer Jonathan Gray says work on these issues is already underway, including research for a fully-waterproof case. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that, unlike Contour’s built-in, to GoPro’s attachable, wide-angle lenses, Optrix is stuck with the iPhone’s flat glass. But a wide-angle attachment is in the works, which Optrix is already preselling on kickstarter.com. Gray says that since the Optrix isn’t actually responsible for the trickiest component – the camera – its product can evolve faster than its competitors.
Ok, so maybe you’re not going to be dropping your phone into a geyser or throwing it off a cliff. Still, the iPhone has always been a timid device. It prefers a quiet life in your purse or desk, safe from getting dropped, scraped or spilled-on. Optrix turns it into a badass.
(Get one for $89.99 at optrixhd.com)