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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twelve South Compass iPad Stand

I recently had a chance to try out the Twelve South Compass iPad stand. I’ve had my eye on it for a long time but never had opportunity to give it a test run for myself.

The Packaging

Unlike pretty much every other accessory maker, Twelve South totally nails it when it comes to packaging. They know that the packaging is the first taste of the product that the customer gets. Well designed, tasteful, easy to open packaging gives the customer a glimpse of how much effort they put into designing the product inside.

In the case of the Compass stand, the package consists of a box containing the stand encased in a plastic shell. The box doesn’t have a lid so the customer can see the stand inside the box through the outer plastic shell. There’s no tape to fuss with, just open the packaging and slide out the box. The Compass sits on a cardboard table in the box and is held in place with white elastic. The fact that they chose to use elastic instead of twist ties is a gift in and of itself.

Underneath the cardboard table there’s a slipcase. The slipcase is simple and speaks for itself. Under the slipcase is a spartan instruction manual with the sole words “Thank You” emblazened on the front. The instruction manual is fairly short: one page. Simple directions for how to use the stand are included. At the end of the instructions is a whimsical section on some uses for the box that the stand came in.

These little touches: the easy to open packaging, well designed box, the full front page of the instructions dedicated to thanking the customer, and whimsical instructions aren’t frivolous. They all come together to give the customer a great first experience. Not just a great first experience with the product, but potentially these details serve as an introduction to the company that made them. They exhibit the ethos of the maker: its attention to detail, its gratitude towards customers, and its fun side.

But enough about the packaging, lets talk about the stand.

The Stand

The Compass isn’t just an iPad stand, it’s a work of art. The stand is solidly built and feels great. It’s heavier than you’d think for something of its size. The brushed finish nicely matches the finish on Apple’s own hardware making the Compass feel at home with your iPad and MacBook Air.

When folded up the Compass is very compact; it’s small enough that you could fit it easily in your pocket or bag and hardly know its there — aside from the weight that is. The small carrying pouch for Compass is a nice touch; it protects not only the stand but anything else that might be rattling around with it in your bag.

The Compass has 2 different modes when unfolded. It can either prop the iPad up like an easel or lay the iPad down at an incline providing for a nice keyboarding surface. When using the Compass as an easel the iPad can sit in either landscape or portrait orientation. In addition, the legs that the iPad stands on are quite a bit longer than needed. The legs being longer means that the compass will work with both iPad 1 and 2, with or without a case. Both of these features make the Compass stand one of the most versatile stands I’ve seen. The versatility coupled with its elegant design, and compact size make for a very compelling and attractive stand.

Unfortunately, as compelling and attractive as the stand is, it has some problems. The main problem I found with the Compass is that the hinge on the back leg was extremely loose. When handling the stand I had to be careful otherwise it would open up. Putting it in its case could sometimes be troublesome as well. But these are minor inconveniences when compared to the biggest problem with the hinge being loose. After some use the Compass would fold itself up and collapse.

The rubberized feet on the bottom of the legs, the shallow angle of the back leg, and the loose hinge worked together to produce a perfect storm. Tapping around the center of the screen would cause the front 2 legs of the stand to lift off the table. With all the force in the back leg and the loose hinge the leg would eventually move into a position where it would fold up and collapse onto the table. If the hinge were tighter not only would this not be a problem, but the stand would also feel much higher quality.

I’m sure they had good reasons for the hinge having as much friction as it does. But a tighter hinge isn’t the only solution. A pin or something similar that holds the back leg in one of two positions would do the trick.

Ignoring the collapsing issue, I’m not sure that the Compass provides a lot of value if you have and iPad 2 with a Smart Cover. The only thing that the Compass provides over the Smart Cover is the freedom to choose orientation — portait or landscape.


While the Compass Stand looks and feels great, but it’s expensive for what benefit you may get out of it. If you have an iPad 2 you likely already have a Smart Cover which provides more value for your money. Regardless, the fact that the stand collapses after moderate tapping is a major problem in my books.