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Published: Tuesday, 5/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Calif. developer puts new twist on classic

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Etch-A-Sketch for iPad. Etch-A-Sketch for iPad.
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Ari Krupnik creates accessories that help companies integrate their products with iPads and iPhones. And while medical tools might be profitable, it's low volume — not to mention kind of drab.

So in between those jobs, Mr. Krupnik seeks out new, fun ways to connect smart phones and tablets to everyday items with widespread appeal.

"What are things people like, can relate to, can remember from childhood?" he said. "The Etch A Sketch is one of those things that come up."

The California-based developer ran with the idea, creating Etcher, a sleeve that turns Apple's iPad into a digital reproduction of the half-century old Ohio Art Co. toy. Just like the real thing, white knobs control up-and-down and side-to-side doodling, and a good shake lets you start over with a clean gray canvas.

Unlike the original, Etcher will let users save their artwork or share it with friends via sites like Facebook.

When Ari Krupnik & Associates approached Ohio Art officials with the idea, they were welcoming. The Bryan-based company had already licensed both Etch A Sketch-themed covers and apps for smart phones and tablets, but Etcher was a new take — especially with its authentic knobs.

"We had thought about different ways to do this, but they're really going after a different target audience than we are," said Martin Killgallon, Ohio Art's senior vice president of marketing and product development. "This is going to be a $100 retail accessory to the iPad. We think it's just fantastic."

Ohio Art signed a licensing agreement with Mr. Krupnik's company that allows him use of their trademarks. Mr. Killgallon didn't specify exact terms, but said typically the agreements include an up-front fee and future royalty payments.

Mr. Krupnik is using Kickstarter.com to raise capital for the product. The online crowd-funding site allows inventors and developers to skip big-money investors in favor of asking consumers to pledge a little money to support the item and get an early delivery once production starts. Mr. Krupnik says it's also a way to see if products appeal to buyers.

"Here you get real people, fronting real money, their hard-earned dollars, to say this is something that's worth buying," he said.

That also carries with it risk of failure — Mr. Krupnik's first concept on the site, a tool that would transform your iPhone into a radar detector, didn't reach 10 percent of his funding goal. A second product that allows people to use their phones as remote controllers for toy cars and planes was successful.

And he sees success looming with the Etcher. A week in, his outfit has collected pledges of more than $16,000, about 21 percent of the goal.

Mr. Krupnik said Etcher is a way to keep the Etch A Sketch relevant, as well as a generational bridge.

"This is a product that can help grandparents and grandchildren connect," he said. "It's an experience that carries over. There's not too many things you could have bought in 1960 and can carry over that experience in a way that's still relevant and interesting."

While company officials are excited to see the Etch A Sketch in digital form, the real-life Etch A Sketch remains popular. Part of what has kept children twisting Etch A Sketch knobs all these years is the nostalgia their parents felt for the half-century-old toy. Part of it is also wonder, Mr. Killgallon said, adding that officials see their original carrying on well into the future.

"Even in today's high-tech world, there's still a magical component to it. There are no batteries and you say, ‘How does it do that?' It's a great value at $10 or $12 retail," he said. "There are no loose parts. It's quiet. It fits perfectly on your lap."

The company has offered to produce the Etcher sleeves at the factory in which they currently make their Etch A Sketches. Mr. Krupnik said no decisions have been made, but calls it an intriguing option.

Ari Krupnik & Associates hopes to begin shipping Etcher in October.

For more information or to support the project, people can go to Kickstarter.com and search for Etcher.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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