Gifts for the iPhone-toting Grad

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Like spring gobbler hunting season in New Hampshire, graduation time is nearly here (cue Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance).

Whether that special grad in your life (or yourself) is planning a backpacking trek across Europe, or hunting for that most elusive of prey, The Job, rest assured that there’s a proper iPhone gift they (or again, you) can use. Today we’ll be focusing on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, the handsets most likely to be carried by cash-strapped students.

A Little History

Ah yes, when I graduated from college, I was still using a Nokia 8810, which had the super awesome app “Snake.” OK, so Snake wasn’t really an app, but we’re talking the Dark Ages of cellphones here; when people actually planned on keeping the same one for *GASP* years. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that my 8810 was steam powered. That or gnomes. I hate gnomes.

Quantum Leap it to 2010, the smartphone craze has taken up a huge piece of the overall cellular marketplace, Apple just released the iPhone 4 with a totally new all glass-and-metal design, and Scott Bakula looks the same as he did in the 80’s. It was around this time that the average consumer was really getting into the handset game thanks to Apple’s iOS, the growing App Store and some serious cachet attached to the iPhone.

A year later, the iPhone 4S joined the ranks with Siri and a new camera module that quickly earned a spot as the second-most popular shooter on Flickr.

Dock_connectorA Dying Protocol (Question Mark)

In its quest for world domination, Apple wisely chose to include some of the magic from its massively successful iPod lineup: the 30-pin connector. Now banished from Apple’s iOS device stable, the venerable interface, referred to as just “the dock connector,” served for nearly a decade as the tech monolith’s go-to for charging, transferring and streaming.

Although it’s been replaced by the new, svelte Lightning protocol, the 30-pin still has a few years of life left in her thanks to a glut of hundreds of millions of compatible iPhones, iPads and iPods.


iPhones are great. So great, in fact, that people often run their batteries into the ground playing Candy Crush Saga, or streaming Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” on a custom one-song Spotify playlist set to repeat day and night. Or so I’ve heard.

Apple provides a mere 1,420 mAh of power for the iPhone 4 (1,430 mAh for the 4S), nowhere near enough juice to stream back-to-back episodes of “Game of Thrones” in a 30-hour marathon of dragons, deception and bacchanalian delights. And forget about reading the books, you won’t get past the family tree.

To solve this utter dilemma, because I need to see more dragons, a number of companies have come out with portable charging solutions.

For example, OtterBox has just introduced the new Defender Series for iPhone 4/4S with “iON Iintelligence,” promising to both cradle your precious like a newborn babe AND up to double its battery life. Being an OtterBox product, it’s already more than capable of handling some rough and tumble situations, but the accompanying app is what really makes this power pack unique:
From the OtterBox website: The iON Intelligence software is an app that estimates battery power and predicts battery time remaining by monitoring your device-usage habits. This app allows you to eliminate guesswork by clearly displaying the power status for both the case and your device and intelligently predicts when your phone battery will run out. The iON Intelligence app monitors and incorporates many different factors to create the most accurate, personalized power profile possible.
OtterBox Defender Series with iON Intelligence
Price: $129.95

Goal_ZeroAs another option for those backpackers out there, Goal Zero has a compact solar cell bundle called the Switch8 Kit that provides charging while off the grid. The recharging outfit includes a fold-up solar panel unit and a separate battery pack. It takes a long time (read 5 to 10 hours) for the pack to reach full capacity using just the photovoltaics, but users can quickly charge up before leaving the house via USB.

Goal Zero Switch8 Solar Recharging Kit
Price: $99.95

Camera Add-ons

For some reason people love cellphone cameras. Despite being great for landscapes and outdoor photography, many iPhone owners choose to turn the camera on themselves, or have a deep respect for mirror design. Either way, a lot of users are in their own photos, which makes Joby’s line of GripTight accessories a good investment for budding self-photographers.

GorillaTightCompatible with the company’s GorillaPod tentacle-like stands, as well as all standard tripods, the GripTight is one of the cleaner, more refined iPhone clamps on the market.

Joby GorillaTight Mounts
Price: $19.95 to $39.95

Now that the camera’s pointing in the right direction, an external lens might be in order. Now, before you stop reading and try to punch me through the computer, I’ve heard the “apps can solve everything” argument, but some situations call for hardware solutions that software just can’t match. I’d take a mediocre fisheye lens over an image processing algorithm any day.

OlloclipThe olloclip has been around for some time, but is still one of the best implemented lens mounting designs out there for iPhone. Originally made for the 4 and 4S, the clip-on accessory fits directly over the handset’s built-in camera and offers three lens options: macro, fisheye and a screw-on wide angle adapter.

Unlike other brands that use plastic lens elements, olloclip uses quality glass wrapped in a CNC-ground aluminum frame. It’s always preferable to have a lens with of equal, or superior, optics in front of the iPhone’s camera.

Price: $69.99

Mood Lighting

With its bevy of apps and Internet access, the iPhone is slowly rendering our appendages useless. We don’t have to look for phone numbers, get out a map to find directions or even open a book. Why should turning a room’s lights on and off be any different?. I don’t want to move from this couch, ever!

HueThanks to Philips, my cries to the gods of laziness have been answered. Hue lets the iPhone not only control individual light bulbs (which are LED so, you know, efficient) wirelessly, but allows for users to change the units’ color temperatures. From bright white, to warm white, to purple, to red, to blue, Hue is almost infinitely customizable. No blacklight, but that is something best left in college anyway

The accompanying app features a few “light recipes” where bulb colors are mixed and matched to create a variety of different atmospheres. Users can customize their own recipes to suit their mood, or import photos into the app to recreate a particularly colorful scene. Timer function included.

Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack
Price: $199.95


Due to the 30-pin dock connector’s roots in iPod, there is a huge number of audio-related equipment out there “Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad.”

TASCAM is a well-known moniker in the professional audio trade, and offers a range of high-quality, high-tech products to a discerning audience. While its consumer-minded products don’t include the cutting edge innards of their bigger, and pricier, siblings, they are well built and more than capable for the average user.

From left: TASCAM’s iM2X, iJX2 and iM2. Fuzzy windscreens also available (not shown).

For the iPhone, TASCAM cooked up three audio recording tools specifically designed to take advantage of the handset’s form factor and internal components. The iM2 is an A-B microphone that connects to the phone’s dock connector, a good choice for stereo recordings of concerts and ambient noise.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the iM2X stereo condenser microphone, which features an X-Y mic arrangement for single-source recordings. The unit also sports an on-board input level/clipping LED meter for quick and easy sound monitoring.

Finally, the iXJ2 is a pocketable mic/line amp with two 3.5mm jacks for stereo or mono input. Two volume knobs facilitate A/B recording levels, while both mic and line level recording are supported. In addition to the operational amp, the iXJ2’s decently spec’d audio-to-digital converter offers a clean signal source.

TASCAM iM2, iMX2 and iJX2
Prices: From $28.99 to $79



We come to the final chapter of our little gadget overview, and oddly enough, it’s the last thing on college graduates’ minds: money. Wait a minute…

What do college grads riding the gravy train and humping a hobo bindle have in common? Credit cards (probably).

Square’s reader lets iPhone owners become their own personal stores. For a small 2.75 percent per-transaction fee, users can swipe credit cards from most major banks, making rain checks a thing of the past. Money goes directly into a bank account of your choosing. All the monies.

Your friend just said they’d “get you back” for dinner? NO. They can pay now with plastic!

Square Register
Price: Free with sign-up


Well, the accessories listed above should keep the recent grad busy for at least a week. The Hue bulb itself held my attention for a solid three hours of non-stop fiddling. There are many more gadgets and trinkets available, and many more still to be made, but this list is a good foundation for those just starting out on their own.

Go forth O pioneers, and claim your manifest iDestiny!

About the author



Mikey Campbell is a self-professed tech geek. Perhaps it was the "100-in-one" electronic learning kit his father gave him as a child, or some genetic disposition to solder, but his need to break into a shiny new gadget cannot be stopped. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism and working a brief stint at a local daily print publication, he explored his roots in Japan for three years; making countless visits the electronics sanctuary that is Akihabara. When he's not tearing down perfectly good hardware, Mikey is out taking artsy photos or hitting the beach in his home town of Honolulu, Hawaii. Mikey is currently an editor for Apple news site AppleInsider.

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