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COVR2Anyone who has ever tried to take candid photos can talk about the change that comes over people when they notice someone taking pictures. For some, it’s a subtle shift in posture to show their best side, while others will make silly faces or try to photobomb an otherwise nice photo.

Thomas Hurst
Thomas Hurst

Pulitzer Prize finalist and Bellevue resident Thomas Hurst is trying to solve that problem with Covr, a new iPhone case that makes it possible for people to shoot photos while holding their phone flat, like a remote control.

Its key feature is a prism that users can slide over their phone’s camera, which allows them to capture a photo without holding the phone up. Here’s a video that shows how it works:

The idea came to Hurst after his wife, who had recently been diagnosed with late-stage cancer, complained about having a hard time taking photos of their three kids with her iPhone. She often had her hands full, and couldn’t hold her iPhone up to take a picture. What’s more, their two older sons would often make funny faces or run and hide when they knew they were having their pictures taken.

COVR3“So, literally a few days after her telling me this, I was sitting downstairs just watching TV, bouncing between two baseball games,” Hurst told GeekWire in an interview. “And I was using my remote on my television, pointing it at the TV and hitting the jump button, back and forth between the two games, and it just dawned on me: wouldn’t it be nice if you could take pictures like this, the same way you hold a TV remote?”

Since then, he has worked through a number of prototypes for an iPhone case that could help accomplish that, and eventually settled on the final design, which features a prism that allows people to take photos without having to signal to everyone around them that they’re trying to capture an image.

The prism does protrude out from the rest of the Covr case, but Hurst said that it’s still comfortable for him and his early testers to keep in their pants pockets, especially since most of the people who carry smartphones carry them with the screen facing inwards, so they won’t feel the prism in their pocket. Moreover, Hurst said that people shouldn’t be worried about the prism wearing a hole in their pants.

“I’ve had a prototype for over a year, and I’ve had a couple different prototypes, but I have no wear in my pants,” he said.

A photo taken with Covr by Richard Koci Hernandez.
A photo taken with Covr by Richard Koci Hernandez.

Users who want to take pictures with their phone the normal way just have to slide the prism down the case to expose the iPhone’s camera. Because the prism turns the photos an iPhone takes upside-down, Covr users will need to take pictures using a free app provided by the company if they want to shoot photos right side up. People who prefer to shoot with other photo apps may not need to use Covr’s app all the time, though: Hurst said that he’s working with a few developers to get their apps to support his case as well.

Right now, Hurst still needs to raise almost $25,000 for Covr to get funded on Kickstarter, though it’s clear that there’s strong demand for the case. Right now, the project has over 800 backers, and more than 700 of them are signed up to get a case. People interested in getting one of the first Covr cases need to contribute at least $55 to Hurst’s campaign, compared to a suggested retail price of almost $70.

Hurst acknowledges that Covr could be used by people with creepier purposes than just wanting to take candid photos of street scenes. While he thought about not releasing the case at all, for fear that it would be used by people to take inappropriate photos, Hurst said that he doesn’t think new technology should be kept off the market just because it could be abused.

“I don’t think we can stop creating technology because there’s a contingent of society that’s going to be filthy in that way,” he said. “I really think that we have such a fascinating world around us. I don’t think we have to be afraid of wanting to document it. And I know people who are afraid to do that with their regular iPhone or their regular professional camera. It’s not about the tool, it’s about people’s hearts and their motives.”

Hurst isn’t the only Seattle-area entrepreneur with his eyes set on changing the face of iPhone photography. Contour founder Marc Barros successfully funded Moment, his iPhone lens startup, through Kickstarter earlier this year.

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