Under the Radar

Navy Vet Invents the BakBone, a Better Way to Hold an iPad

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Navy veteran and physician Paul Webber wanted an easy way to hold his iPad when doing bedside data entry, but he couldn't find a device that was also easily sterilized to use in a hospital environment. That inspired him to invent the BakBone, a ring that attaches to the back of a tablet computer.

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The BakBone works with a magnet that attaches to the back of your tablet with an adhesive. The ring then attaches to the magnet and allows the tablet to be easily rotated from landscape to portrait orientation. When you don't need the ring, you can pull it off and the magnet is thin enough that you should be able to fit the iPad into most cases with the magnet still attached.

If you work in a situation where you'd need to carry a tablet one-handed (on a construction site, doing inventory management, tracking plays as a coach, working as a guide, you get the idea), then this is an elegant, sturdy solution. If you work in a medical profession where you need something that's easily cleaned, this is an incredibly good option. The BakBone costs $29.95 including shipping when you buy direct from their website.

(If you upgrade your tablet in the future, you can remove the magnet with a credit card, wipe off the residue with an alcohol swab and Paul will send you a free replacement adhesive. The magnet does not affect the iPad in any way, but you might have to use your fingers instead of the stylus with some tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Pro or the Microsoft Surface.)

Paul Webber talked to us about his Navy career, how he invented the BakBone and why he chose to manufacture his product in the USA.

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Describe your military background for our readers.

I entered the US Naval Academy as Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater's last appointment, when Reagan was president. After graduating in 1990, I served as "The Ensign" on USS Aries (PHM-5), a hydrofoil performing drug interdiction out of Key West FL. I then entered the EOD training pipeline, going as far as gaining my Diving Officer qualification before a visual acuity disparity (and military cut-backs under Clinton) sidelined my goals. The Marines were kind enough to adopt me as a Gunfire Liaison Officer in 2D ANGLICO out of Camp LeJeune. Less diving, more parachuting. A brilliant group of guys, very capable, incredibly resourceful.

At this point, "littoral warfare" was becoming the buzzword as we shifted away from a "blue water" Navy. My career handlers thought my eclectic background made me an ideal candidate for a desk job in some sub-level of the Pentagon sitting between an Admiral and USMC General. I then discovered a severe allergy to administrative work and choose to get out. Before doing so, however, I was awarded a final chance to serve my country on the lovely atoll of Diego Garcia about 1000 nauticals due south of India as Harbor Operations Officer. As we were between gulf wars, there wasn't much to do so I read medical texts hoping to better rehabilitate a recent parachuting injury. I read a lot of them. On a friendly dare from a dentist, I took the medical college admission test, and somewhat surprisingly, passed. Now I'm an ER doctor.

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What inspired you to invent the BakBone?

A few years ago, my hospital updated their electronic health record (EHRs) and I was on a team of clinicians who designed the order-sets templates. Our goal was not only to facilitate computerized chart entries but also to mobilize this ability to the patient's bedside. Our first efforts weren't so elegant: we mounted entire computers -- keyboard, CPU, monitor, and all -- onto wheeled carts. These proved cumbersome as patient rooms are usually quite small. The doctors and nurses also seemed more involved with the computers than with the patients as the older EHRs were difficult to navigate.

About this same time, my children received a first generation iPad from their grandmother. After of day of depriving my children of their gift, it didn't take long for me to recognize that tablet computers -- small, powerful, and designed for mobility -- were the answer for mobile bedside computing. They were, however, quite difficult to hold, let alone after repeatedly washing hands with lubricated soaps and hand sanitizers between patients. The accessories that incorporated Velcro straps, vinyl sleeves, or seamed cases harbor pathogens and hence weren't even an option in the medical arena.

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Once you came up with the idea, what was the process of putting them into production? 

The idea for the BakBone evolved in the following months. After searching the internet for an easily sanitized tablet holder and finding none, I started designing a tablet ring: something simple, intuitive, easily cleaned, ergonomic, and removable. Some very creative, resourceful family members and friends joined the fray and helped improve my original design. We fashioned a prototype using relatively new 3D printing technology, and continued to redesign until we felt we had our opus. Injectable mold cavities were then fabricated to mass produce the current rendition of the BakBone in Los Angeles.

What led you to manufacture the BakBone in the USA? Did you investigate overseas production? Does that affect the cost of the product?

 Honestly, we knew from the start that we were going to produce BakBones in the US. In fact, we didn't even investigate overseas production (to the chagrin of many potential investors looking for bigger margins). So yes, that affects the cost of our product; you might pay a little more for an incredibly well-designed American tablet holder. Recognize, however, we didn't create BakBone as a money-making venture but rather as an innovative solution to a problem. Also, it's simpler to continually refine our product when our manufacturer is down the road or in the same city. Our backgrounds also play into this choice: Paul Molina is a USMC veteran, Anthony is the son of a Navy veteran, and Bob is the father of a Navy veteran (me). You'll note that every tablet ring has MADE IN USA imprinted on the edge. We are not shy about our decision.

Describe how your customers are using the BakBone.

As the BakBone is the only easily-sanitized tablet holder on the market, we believed medical environments -- hospitals, clinics, home health care, pharmaceutical reps, EMS -- and some engineering sectors were our targets. We now find ourselves overwhelmed with interest from fields as diverse as banks, airlines, education, realty, fantasy football fanatics, and law enforcement. Anyone using a tablet experienced a similar problem: they need something simple, ergonomic, and durable to hold when using an iPad or tablet as they were meant to be used -- as mobile devices -- whether at the bedside, barside, doing inventory, showing homes, calling air support. The BakBone's design combined with our ability to personalize them by adding a logo atop the ring or by changing the color make these immensely popular with schools, corporations, sports teams ... really everyone.

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How can someone buy a BakBone?

Simply visit our website ~ www.thebakbone.com ~ and order about a thousand. One Bone costs $29.95 with free shipping in North America; we give discounts for bulk orders, just email us. At the request of our customers, we are adding four more colors to our original six, to include British Racing Green and Pitch Black. Our current 'universal' size is based on my hand, but our goal is to gain enough capital to make a smaller ring size for women & children, and a Kong size for those more burly than me. If you're military or a veteran, enter GONAVY as a promo code and I'll give you 10% off MSRP. If you enter GOARMY, it'll default your color selection to Hot Pink and disable our return policy.

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month