I’ve been developing for a while now, and I have a lot of tools that I use every day. By far my favorite so far is a simple dock made out of Legos. I’ve been using this dock for over a month now, and I find it such an invaluable part of my daily developing toolkit that I carry it back and forth between my day job and my home office every day.
From a developer’s point of view, traditional iPhone docks have a few issues that make them pretty unusable. They usually hold only one iPhone, and rarely hold an iPad. The primary issue for me though is that they lock the phone down by the connector – in order to pick it up, you have to disconnect the phone.
Imagine you’re in the middle of working on your new interface. You finally have everything working right, and you grab the phone to rotate it to landscape to check that everything translated properly. Oops, you just killed your debug session.
This is the reason that for the first 4 years of doing iPhone dev, I usually didn’t use a dock. When I did use one, I went with a simple wood block with an angled cut, and then jammed the phones in there hanging off the side with the cable still attached.
I’m telling you there is a better way. All this finally came to a head about a month ago, and I decided to mock something up in my kid’s workshop. I headed down and broke out the legos and started building. It took me four tries to get the dimensions right so that they support the phones properly, and I ended up with a triple dock with room for a fourth device along the back. All three portrait mounts have cutouts for a standard Lightning cable, allowing you to use the dock handsfree, while still being able to pick up the phone when you need to.
The dock features room for two iPhone 4’s or 5’s (I’ll usually stock it with a 4S and a 5S) on the left, and a 6 or 6 Plus on the right. Along the back, the ridge is capable of supporting an iPad, though I usually use that for holding on of the phones in landscape if I’m doing a lot of landscape specific testing that day. Now, if you’d rather just download the plans and get building, this is your cue to skip to the end. Otherwise, I’m going to geek out a bit on you and go through some of the design elements that went into the dock.
There are a couple of points of interest to look at here. First, the way the three portrait mounts in the front are put together are actually a bit overkill. The key part there is the back. I found a rise of 2 bricks to 1 brick horizontal works perfectly for the thin style cases I prefer. The white 1x plate across the bottom is actually there for structural support for the bricks below, and the phone does not rest on it.
Holding the front in place is a large structure that is actually pretty overkill. You’ll see a similar two brick rise with a plate hanging over by 1 stud. I reinforced that area a bit with some overlapping plates. The important part of the front structure is the cutout for the cable. I found a cutout of 4 studs was just right to allow not only the cable to trail down through, but also gives you room to reach the fingerprint sensor to unlock the device before a session. It also is wide enough to allow even the old style 30 pin connector to trail through without hitting the sides.
Next take a look at the spacing of the three sections. I found that a total width of 6 studs was just right to fit in an iPhone 4 or 5 with a slim case. With the four stud opening, this leaves 2 studs on each side to support the phone. I found that with the square form factor of the iPhones, this worked great. For the rightmost mount, I opened that up to 10 studs which allows an iPhone 6 Plus with a slim case to fit cleanly. I opened up the front opening a bit also to allow easier access to the fingerprint sensor on my 6 Plus, but if you plan on using an iPhone 6 in this slot a lot I’d recommend closing that back down to the 4 stud width of the other two slots.
Internally, I tried to keep the structure consistent without using too many special parts. The big structural elements to look for are the front to back supports that run between each phone. I put this in there to make sure that the front doesn’t push forward and off during normal use
Finally, along the top edge I put the landscape mount. This turned out to be a very simple mount, with a single brick row running along the back edge, a two stud opening across the bottom, and a ridge made of a plate overlapped by one stud and raised by one plate off the base. This was just enough height to catch the lip of all of my devices and hold them in place, and with the very low height of the lip, most of the force is exerted laterally across the studs, which means even the weak and unsupported plates I used in places haven’t come off during normal use.
I like to keep a pretty clean work environment, with my big development screens taking the majority of the attention, and the devices under testing staying out of the way until they’re needed. As you can see, this new dock fits nicely in that aesthetic, and provides a very functional take on the traditional dock. You’ll also notice one more dock sitting there unmentioned. Once I started using the dock, I decided that I wanted a dedicated landscape mount dock just to hold my Nexus 7 that I do most of my Android heavy lifting on. That dock is in all white bricks in the photos, and is basically just the top section of the primary dock, lifted and rebuilt as a standalone dock.
One more though – I mentioned earlier that I headed down to mock up the new dock in Legos. I had originally planned on then making something more permanent, maybe on a CNC router down at my library, but in the end I liked the Lego aesthetic so much that I decided to keep it – sorry kids!
And now finally the reason you’re all here – how to build it yourself!. I documented the build, along with a few minor improvements using Lego’s excellent Digital Designer tool. You can follow along and build your own using the instructions. Flip to the end for a BOM (bill of materials), but remember it’s Lego – you don’t have to follow the instructions exactly and you can just use whatever bricks you have laying around!
And with that, I bid you good night, and happy developing. Until next time, thanks for reading!
Did you build your own dock? Let us know in the comments!