When I initially stumbled across Canopy’s Kapok ($70), it seemed like a groovy idea: A case that had dedicated buttons for shooting photos and video is exactly what the iPhone needs, I thought. Plus, other app developers would be able to use Canopy’s API to add functionality to their apps through the buttons. Brilliant.
But then came the iOS 5 unveiling, with the revelation the camera app would gain its own hard button (in the form of the iPhone’s volume up button), and no other app developers have taken advantage of the kapok’s hard buttons. So is it still as shiny a toy as I’d orginally thought? Here’s what some hands-on time revealed…
The Kapok is really a three-part system: an enclosing plastic case with two auxiliary buttons (that communicate with the iPhone via its 30-pin connector) and a threaded tripod mount; a plastic base with a ball-socket monopod; and the free Canopy Camera Tools app.
The case is a two-piece, slider case that’s easy to attach and not too bulky (althougn it does add considerable length); it’s also fairly light.
Once the case is on the iPhone, it can be attached to any standard threaded tripod mount — a big plus for those wanting to use the iPhone as a serious tool for shooting stills or video.
Here’s something I’d like to see gadget manufacturers do more often: the Kapok’s packaging is actually part of the product — the monopod’s base doubles as the bottom part of the packaging.
Both case buttons are dual-stage; as with most dedicated cameras, depressing the shutter button halfway will activate and lock the autofocus, depressing fully activates the shutter.
The Canopy Camera Tools app is probably the best element of the three, but since it’s a stand-alone app that’s pretty much fully functional with out the hardware, we’ll include a review of it elsewhere.
The buttons only work with the Canopy Camera Tools app — and even then, the app needs to be running in the foreground. That means when iOS 5 drops, it won’t work with the iPhone’s native camera app and therefore won’t be nearly as fast to use as the native app, as the latter will benefit from the ability to activate through the lockscreen (besides having use of one the iPhone’s volum buttons). Also, the only customizable functions the Canopy app allows are for toggling between single exposure and burst mode; you’d think Canopy would add an exposure lock or zoom function or something to the other button.
If there were even just a few more popular apps that took advantage of the case’s buttons, it could potentially greatly enhance the usability of the case — but so far, the only app compatible is the Canopy app.
The stand is a bit funky. Attaching it to the iPhone requires either spinning the iPhone or spinning the stand, neither of which is graceful. Once attached, the ball joint has limited movement, sometimes making positioning of the iPhone difficult.
The case’s mini-USB port will allow the iPhone to be charged, but not docked with iTunes — but since the case is pretty easy to remove, this is a huge issue.
It’s a great idea — or it would have been, nine months ago. If other app developers don’t get aboard, we may never see this case’s true potential. The base needs a little work too.