WINDERMERE — “We try not to call it a selfie stick.”
Although the Smart iReach serves the same purpose — ensuring the photographer can be in the photo — its Windermere makers want to distance their product from similar devices, which are not as high-end as their extendable pole for cellphone pictures involving the user.
“It needs to scream fashionable; compact, lightweight … Bluetooth,” said Jason Wyatt to Rick Grago in early innovation stages of the Smart iReach. “So we engineered it, went to hundreds of people with several prototypes and arrived where we are now over a period of time. By the time we went to mass production — August of last year — September or October was when the cheap selfie sticks from China started showing up on our shores. When we started, not one person had ever heard of selfie sticks.”
Wyatt said the start came from Grago’s trip to Walt Disney World several years ago, when Grago attached a metal pole to his digital camera to take pictures. A couple years later, he had added a clip to an extendable pole to take personal pictures with his Android.
With “selfie” as the top word of 2013-14 and old family photos often missing one family member as the photographer, the pair began working on a prototype and made national news, Wyatt said.
“We trademarked Smart iReach because it’s for a smartphone, and I reach out for a group photo,” he said. “We’re trying to get away from the narcissistic selfie toward group photos, family events, girls’ and guys’ nights out.”
Among launch events for the Smart iReach was a pre-Academy Awards event, and celebrities such as Patricia Arquette, Will Ferrell, Kevin Spacey, Lance Bass and Kevin Hart have used it, Wyatt said. Corporate heads have taken note, as well, with a special space left for branding, if desired, he said.
Other desirable features include a reach of about 28.5 inches, durable carbon fiber, folding to fit into a small space and taking 10 photos at a time, Wyatt said. From one charge, the device can take 50,000 photos, fit for social media, marketing and ensuring no one is left out, he said.
Wyatt has turned skeptics into users, as well.
“I had a friend in Tampa who said he wouldn’t use it,” he said. “I saw him two weeks ago and opened it, and he started using it. He couldn’t put it down. Later in the day, he was practically selling it for me. He said he never had as many Likes on Facebook as when he used the Smart iReach. My dad said the same thing: 72 years old; would never use it. He took a trip to Maine, and his pictures didn’t have any people in it. I asked for pictures of him and his wife, and he didn’t have any. He said, ‘Wow, I guess I need to buy one.’”
Although Wyatt and Grago expected millennials to be their primary market, middle-age and senior users have become most common, based on family travel, Wyatt said.
One of the icons of family travel is, of course, Walt Disney World, where products such as the Smart iReach are banned as of about a month ago, despite popularity among guests whose eyes it caught. But Wyatt hopes appropriate control measures could arise for park officials to allow them again and maybe even form a partnership with Smart iReach to enhance social-media reach.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because there are a lot of things you can’t take into a Disney park,” Wyatt said. “Most things you can’t take on a roller coaster. When we set out to design this, obviously Disney is in our backyard. We thought it would be a great way for their guests to photograph and video their stay. We always hoped nobody would take it on a ride, because it’s not appropriate to go on a ride.”
Beyond theme-park attendees, parents in auditoriums have bought them to take photos around others’ heads, and even selfies with babies are enhanced with the Smart iReach, Wyatt said.
“By all means, there’s no way this is a fad,” he said. “Photos and video will always be here to stay: barbecues, Thanksgiving, fishing, Christmas — avoiding that empty place.”
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Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].