Three Thanksgivings ago, an Uber driver noticed an unfortunate trend plaguing smartphone users.
Phones left in seats, stuffed in bras and always just out of reach inspired 45-year-old Michael Walker to make his wife’s idea of a wearable, hands-free case idea into a reality.
In early 2014, the Clovis native built a leather prototype of the Backhand – a phone case that would wrap around the wrist and back of the hand, with a quick release strap. He immediately found the contraption useful when he rode his motorcycle, as he was able to see his phone screen without holding it or looking away from the road ahead.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “It’s so nice to have everything I need on the back of my hand.”
In the past 2 1/2 years, Walker has sold approximately 230 hand-made cases, but he expects that number to grow as he builds a larger network of users.
Although the original was leather, Walker expanded to also make faux fur and denim versions, as well as a newer LED light-up model. Because the case is wearable and designed not to interfere with movement and dexterity, smaller iPhones and Androids fit better with the Backhand, Walker said.
“We’re getting this thing started, trying to get a lot adopters and then who knows where it goes from here,” he said.
As an Uber and Lyft driver, Walker uses the case to navigate, accept requests and keep his phone handy – and he thinks other drivers would like it, too. He hopes to start marketing directly to drivers soon, and is constantly creating new connections by driving.
Walker said the wearable case has also gained popularity with ravers who like the convenience and safety of their phones literally strapped to their hand.
Because of this, Walker partnered with Jake Thomas, a 23-year-old Fresno State student who is working toward a degree in electrical engineering. The two met at Fresno Ideaworks, a local resource center for innovative artists, engineers and inventors.
Thomas is developing Bluetooth and microphones capabilities for some models, so that users will able to control the LED lights’ pattern from the phone.
“This is an entrepreneurial endeavor,” Thomas said. “And I’m very excited about that.”
The Backhand is sold at Mia Cuppa Caffe’s artisan fairs, online on Amazon and in San Francisco’s Treasure Island flea markets. The wearable cases range from about $25 to $55 depending on the style: faux fur, denim, leather or LED.
The Backhand is currently patent pending, with an application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, confirmed Fresno patent attorney Richard Ryan.