There are very few truly original ways to improve upon established categories of Apple accessories, and developers who try to do so are as often stifled by pricing or engineering issues as anything else. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, a small company called OCDesk — short for Obsessively Clean Desk — has surprisingly hit upon not just one but three legitimate design improvements to the traditional iPhone dock. So while its first product OCDock ($80) is unquestionably expensive and Apple product-specific by comparison with alternatives, it actually packs enough innovation to justify its asking price to its target market of “obsessive” iPhone 5 owners with certain Mac computers. All that remains to be seen is whether mainstream customers accustomed to $29-$39 docks will be interested, as well.
Superficially, OCDock appears to be little more than a machined silver aluminum arc with a Lightning plug in the recessed center and a flat, cheap-looking USB cable sticking out of the back. Largely because of the cable, it doesn’t make a fantastic first impression coming out of the package, and there’s a second wrinkle: it’s light enough that OCDesk includes adhesive stickers just to hold it down on a flat surface. After connecting the full-sized USB plug to your computer, you’re supposed to put one under OCDock’s uneven bottom, at which point it won’t move around.
Most companies stabilize docks with heavier metals or rubber pads, so OCDesk’s choice of adhesive seems confusing—until you consider the overall design ethos behind the accessory. OCDock is very specifically designed to sit directly in front of a metal-legged iMac or Apple Thunderbolt Display, centered right in the middle, overlapping the leg’s front by around a half inch while extending out roughly a third of an inch beyond it. This design choice creates an uneven bottom surface that benefits from adhesive, a thin and minimalist enough solution to keep the elevated iPhone from interfering with the Mac display behind it. While sticky tape isn’t an ideal solution, OCDesk gives you five pieces, enough to let you make repositioning mistakes or adjustments.
Just like the tape, the surprisingly thin USB cable has a good justification, as well: unlike virtually every other dock we’ve tested, OCDock’s cable is designed to go underneath the iMac or Thunderbolt Display’s leg, completely disappearing after installation. There’s enough cable length to run the wire through the management hole on the monitor’s back, directly into one of the rear USB ports. So what looks and feels cheap coming out of the package actually winds up being better than typical cables because you never have to look at it thereafter—another point in OCDock’s favor.
Perhaps the best of OCDock’s innovations is the one we were least expecting—actual iPhone 5 case compatibility, achieved with yet another minimalist trick. Looking at the dock, you’d never guess that there was a spring-loaded metal floor alongside the Lightning connector, ready to handle bare iPhones without movement while gently sliding downwards to seamlessly accommodate iPhone cases. While not every iPhone 5 case is guaranteed to fit the somewhat shallow docking space, Speck’s CandyShell and CandyShell Flip worked perfectly, the latter without any need to flip open its bottom section. Case users need only remove a pre-installed rubber pad inside OCDock in order to make extra space.
From a functional standpoint, OCDock works almost perfectly. Synchronization and charging thankfully perform just as expected. You can use the iPhone 5 as a speakerphone, albeit with what callers described as a light echo with or without a case on—an acoustic issue that we’d call the accessory’s only arguably serious engineering oversight. It’s worth mentioning but not dwelling on the fact that there’s no audio line-out port on the dock; this isn’t surprising given its intended coupling with a computer, say nothing of Lightning-related changes to line-out on recent iOS devices. However, it’s a factor that makes OCDock more comparable to Apple’s classic $29 computer-only docks than its more complex $39 computer/audio alternatives, albeit OCDock is even more limited in compatibility than the typical computer-agnostic solution.
As iMac and iPhone 5 owners who appreciate innovation, minimalist designs, and clutter reduction, OCDock is as precision-targeted to appeal to us as a dock could be—a reason that we’d emotionally lean towards an even higher rating for this accessory. On the other hand, OCDock is unquestionably too expensive for what it offers: a highly computer-specific and one device-focused recharging and synchronization solution, competing against packed-in or increasingly affordable Lightning cables on one hand and $30-$40 Belkin docks on the other. OCDock is a nicely-designed though imperfect and expensive solution, one that will almost completely satisfy people in the niche it’s designed to appeal to. Small tweaks and a price cut could make a second version for iPhones even better. Regardless of whether that happens, we seriously look forward to seeing what OCDesk does in the future, because it got far more right here than the average new accessory company, and delivered something with very real value—just not what most people would consider to be $80 worth.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 5