Review

Review: Henge Docks Gravitas iPhone 7, iPad Lightning dock

Designing for the Apple product ecosystem: Henge Docks Gravitas for iPhone and iPad review; plus an interview about design with Henge Docks founder Matt Vroom.

Apple is well known for its industrial design: the minimalist aesthetic, the attention to detail, the choice of materials, the quality of components, the overall imparting of a reassuring sense of quality and luxe appointment. Under the artistic direction of (Sir) Jony Ive, Apple has set the bar high for its own products. What do these demands mean for other companies, those producing third-party accessories to accompany Apple’s own products?

We recently talked with Matt Vroom, designer and founder of Henge Docks – a US company producing elegant docking solutions for Apple laptops and iOS devices – about what it means to create products for the Apple ecosystem and what creative challenges and opportunities are presented to the modern designer. This interview is below.

Henge Docks presented a range of new docking products at CES 2017 in January, including both Horizontal and Vertical Docks for the MacBook Pro laptop and an all-new Tethered Dock. This new collection of docks allows the user to bring together all their Apple products into one integrated desktop setup, uniting laptop computer with external monitors, speakers, keyboards, track pads – pretty much anything you can plug in.

With everything permanently connected, you can drop your laptop into place and be instantly connected, but also simply grab and go when you need to travel light.

Docks are a big thing for Henge, large and small, and we’ve looked at Henge Docks’ latest Lightning charging dock for iPhones and iPads, on review here. It’s a similar grab and go philosophy, only with small and perfectly formed for iOS devices.

Called the Gravitas, this dock is a weighty thing of minimalist beauty. Made of a sturdy zinc alloy more than 265 per cent more dense than aluminum and weighing 2.5lbs, Gravitas was designed to perfectly match the prevailing Apple aesthetic. Despite the weight, it is also delightfully small, only taking up approximately the same amount of desk space as a regular coffee mug.

The idea behind Gravitas is that it sits permanently connected to your computer, so you don’t have to constantly fiddle with (and find) the right charging cable. Drop your iPhone onto the Dock and you’re done. When you need to go, grab your iPhone or iPad and the sheer weight of Gravitas will keep the dock on your desk as you safely pocket your device.

Gravitas also has a line-out audio port, to which you can plug in powered speakers. In this way, Gravitas can act as an audio hub for any devices plugged in to it, routing the music or movie from whichever app is playing it on the device. The high-fidelity, fixed-volume, stereo audio output comes directly from the Lightning connector.

Another nice touch is what Henge terms “life after device”. This refers to the swappable plastic insert trays that come with Gravitas, each of which is specific to any recent iOS device. Using the correct insert guarantees the best fit and docking experience. The inserts also have removeable inner liners, to fine-tune the fit for many slim-line cases.

Looking to the future, the use of these inserts also means that your Gravitas investment won’t be instantly rendered worthless when Apple releases a new handset. Henge will release new inserts to suit new devices, so that’s the only part you'll need to replace. It’s a neat solution.

Our only grumble is that the plastic inserts are, well, a bit plastic-y. We have a soft spot for soft-touch plastic and we wish more manufacturers invested that little bit extra for the uprated tactile experience. It would also be reassuring when constantly docking and undocking your expensive iPhone, knowing that the softer insert wasn’t going to be harming the phone’s finish. This is a minor point, though, and certainly not something unique to Henge.

Depending on how many iOS devices you have in your home, you might not use the best insert all the time – e.g. you have an iPhone and an iPad, or other people in your house have older iPhones, or iPhones in sleeves and cases that bulk out their dimensions. You have options with Gravitas, at least, and popping out and swapping out the inserts is a simple task.

Overall, Gravitas is impressive: solid, reliable, deceptively simple in appearance yet full-featured. You can literally use this Dock in the dark. With the appropriate insert in place, your device simply drops straight onto the Lightning connector, without fail. Without the perfect insert in place, you do have to be slightly more focused, but it’s still easy. Undocking it is a case of grab, pull and go. The Gravitas itself ain’t moving.

It’s true that you are paying something of a premium for this experience, but once you become a consumer of Apple products and supplementary accessories, presumably you’re already on board with this and are relatively immune to sticker shock.

This is not to say that Gravitas is over-priced; rather, it is what it is: a superb docking solution for Lightning-jack iPhones and iPads; one that is made of quality materials; which complements your existing hardware; that will never give you a moment’s trouble and can grow with you, rather than becoming obsolete overnight when a new product arrives. The total cost of ownership outweighs and outlasts the initial outlay. Kind of like one of Apple’s own products, in fact.

Tech spec

Ports

    •    USB

    •    3.5mm Stereo Audio Out

Included in box

    •    Gravitas Dock

    •    iPhone 6/6s/7 Case Compatible Insert

    •    iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus/7 Plus/iPad Case Compatible Insert

    •    3-foot USB Cable

    •    User Guide

Weights & Dimensions

    •    Product weight: 1.17 kg/2.54 lbs

    •    Shipping weight: 1.50 kg/3.25 lbs

    •    Product dimensions: 7.8 cm x 8.5 cm x 6.4 cm/3.0 in x 3.3 in x 2.5 in

Price

€79

More about Henge Docks

Interview: Matt Vroom, founder Henge Docks

What is design?

The following questions are taken from the list asked of designer Charles Eames in 1969 by Madame L'Amic, the curator of the Musée Arts Decoratifs in Paris. She asked five international designers participating in the exhibition 'Qu'est ce que le design?' ('What Is Design?') the same questions.

We put 10 of Madame L'Amic's 1969 questions to Matt Vroom in 2017, asking him to consider his work as an industrial designer for Henge Docks and to reveal the creative thinking and approach to design that helps drive and shape his products.  

    •    What is your definition of design?

I view design as a process which facilitates creation, rather than a field or a practice. At the most fundamental level, the purpose of design is to develop an optimal solution for a given problem.

    •    Is design an expression of art?

Looking at art as any manifestation of human creativity and design as a process that facilitates creativity, then it would be more appropriate to say that art is most likely to be an expression of design.

    •    What are the boundaries of design?

Design is a process that is versatile and can be applied to any project that requires creativity.

    •    Does design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful?

Labeling something as useful or not can be tricky because perception is largely in the eye of the beholder. The concept of usefulness varies greatly between individuals and even context. Gauging the success of a product is best done in terms of how well it performs relative to its design intent.

    •    Ought form to derive from the analysis of function?

Function should always drive form, but successful design is dependent upon balance. Applying form to an object without regard to purpose leads to sub-optimal solutions, as does the single-minded pursuit of function without consideration of aesthetics. Identifying the required function at the start of the design process gives purpose and intent to every stylistic decision made on the way to solving a problem. The resulting solution will strike the required balance between form and function.

    •    Is design used to modify an old object through new techniques?

Design methodologies revolve around the identification of a set of goals and iterating to an optimal solution. That can be applied to the creation or modification of an existing object for a given purpose.

    •    Does design obey laws?

In a way, design in itself is a set of laws, a sort of flexible framework for creative problem solving. That framework is essentially a method of breaking up large, complex problems to their most granular components. Those elements are then fed into a series of feedback loops, identifying and understanding constraints then iterating toward a solution. Breaking a complex problem down into a smaller pieces with well-defined goals leads to better solutions being developed.

    •    Is design ephemeral?

No, successful design will always stand the test of time despite stylistic elements. A purposeful and thoughtful solution that fulfills its design intent will overcome the ebb and flow of fads in the market. Products that bow to the temptation of the latest styling trends to justify their creation are essentially putting form ahead of function.

    •    What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of design and for its propagation?

Counterintuitively, the most important element in a successful design process is well-established constraints. Creativity, and by extension design, doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it depends on outside inputs to work. The greater the variety and quality of inputs, the more potential there is for an optimal result. However, these inputs have to be balanced by constraints or it is impossible to identify the right solutions. This is doubly true for design processes that involve groups of people. Everyone needs to clearly understand the constraints. The limitations of the medium truly define the art.

    •    What is the future of design?

An individual today has access to a historically unprecedented volume of information and variety of tools from around the world. This knowledge base and the tools to manifest ideas are the fuel for creativity, but we are still limited by the mind’s ability to parse and store information. There is explosive potential when using technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to augment human intellect in the design process.

Notes - Design is a recursive process by which a solution is developed for a problem set within a given context through the holistic consideration of all factors affecting or being affected by that solution.

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