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5/7/2013
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Never Miss Another Mobile Call, Promises U.K. Startup

iBeacon mobile device accessory clips onto bags and uses audio and lights to notify owners of activity on their cell phones.

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As smartphones get bigger and run hotter, it's harder to carry them in pants pockets. Unfortunately, that means men who stow their phones in jackets, sports bags or briefcases, as women have long had to do, are beginning to join women in missing important calls, points out Ronaj Pathak.

Pathak, CEO and founder of a Buckinghamshire company called iBeacon, thinks he has the solution with a new gadget of the same name. iBeacon is a small device that clips onto your bag and alerts you to incoming calls via audio tones and a red light. About the size of a credit card, the iBeacon connects to phones with a bright red cable. Pathak, a former Asia-based freelance business consultant who runs iBeacon with his wife, said they deliberately ditched Bluetooth as a connectivity option to keep setup simpler and the price of the device down.

This is not the first external notification device for cell phones. HTC tried and missed a few years back with its HTC Bliss phone equipped with a dangling bauble that lit up when a call was missed. HTC pitched the phone at women, with "female friendly" features. Although it comes in a range of colors, the iBeacon is gender agnostic and has more features, aimed at both men and women.

[ Check out this roundup of smartphones that offer the convenience of a keyboard: Smartphones With Physical Keyboards. ]

This is Pathak's first company. After graduating from the prestigious London University Imperial College with a masters in electronic engineering in 2000, he worked for several firms starting with telecoms equipment giant Alcatel, in a number of roles in both Europe, the U.S. and finally Singapore, where he says he got the name for the product. The husband-and-wife team have been developing their product ever since, obtaining important design expertise from a Singapore consultancy called Karuma, which built the original TomTom satellite navigation system.

Pathak said he's spent several months showcasing the product to British consumer electronics and mobile firms, who are not willing to commit to stocking the iBeacon before they get a better sense of whether it has commercial potential. Hence his just-launched Kickstarter campaign, a platform he says is "ideal" for the kind of outreach and market testing needed by small British tech firms like his.

Pathak has found contract manufacturers in the U.K. to manufacture the iBeacon in mass volume but that "the next step requires funds to buy the plastic injection molds (tooling) which are quite expensive [and] we also need to place an order with the manufacturer which meets [its] minimum order volume," according to the Kickstarter campaign.

"I think the kind of people who support campaigns on Kickstarter are people who like both innovative ideas like ours but who also want to support new and promising businesses," said Pathak.

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