Turn In Your Phone, and Tune In to Life

Musicians, comedians and fans are fed up with excessive cellphone use at performances. Yondr, a new start-up, has an innovative product for creating “phone-free zones,” and is trying to return authenticity, privacy and exclusivity to venues and artists.

We’re all guilty of it.

Maybe it was Adele, or Aziz Ansari, or the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well show.  Hopefully it wasn’t Nickelback.

Each and every one of us has, at some point in our lives, whipped out our phones at a concert to snap a photo or video.  And while some performers have embraced mobile phones—sometimes enlisting them as mass lighting props[1]—many artists are increasingly seeking ways to prevent fans from excessive and uncontrolled mobile phone use at live shows.


Enter Yondr, a startup that has a solution for limiting phone use in sensitive areas by creating “phone-free spaces”.[2]  Yondr’s product is remarkably simple.  As people enter a venue, they are given a Yondr pouch, which comes in 3 different sizes.  The attendee places her phone in the Yondr pouch and, when she enters the GPS designated phone-free zone, the pouch automatically locks.  If the attendee needs to use her phone, all she has to do is step outside of the phone-free zone to unlock the pouch and access her phone.[3]

Yondr used Alibaba to locate Chinese manufacturers to assemble its secure pouches, and leases the cases to venues for approximately $2.00-2.50 per case per day, with discounts for larger orders.[4]


Early Adopters

Not surprisingly, some of the first adopters of Yondr were stand-up comedians.  A comedian may take months or even years to perfect a joke, and they often use unannounced walk-ons at small comedy venues to test out new, unrefined material.[5]

However, if a bootlegged video of a comedy routine comes out before a major tour or network special, it can prematurely spoil the joke, sending a comedian back to the drawing board.  For this reason, many comedians—including Dave Chappelle, Hannibal Burress and Louis C.K.—utilize Yondr at their shows.[6]

Yondr’s vision is “to show people how powerful a moment can be when we aren’t focused on documenting it or broadcasting it,”[7] and it isn’t stopping at concerts and comedy shows.  Yondr is also expanding into other applications, including schools, restaurants, wedding venues, and movie theaters.[8]  In the case of Sunnyside Environmental School, students and teachers use Yondr pouches throughout the school day, with the teachers keeping the unlocking mechanism.  According to the school’s sustainability coordinator, the school “want[ed] to show students that there can be a difference in the way they interact with each other and their teachers when everyone in the classroom is present and engaged in a particular lesson.”[9]

Problems with Yondr

However, the future of Yondr does not look too promising.

First, some artists admit that phone use at shows isn’t always a bad thing.  For example, when a fan posts photos or videos online, that generates earned media for the artist, which can be especially valuable for building word of mouth foyondr2r lesser known acts.[10]

Second, Yondr does not have an adequate plan for emergency situations.  Locking a phone in a pouch could expose Yondr to considerable liability in the event that someone is urgently trying to reach a concertgoer, or if a Bataclan type event occurred at the venue.  Graham Dugoni, Yondr’s founder, was recently asked about the emergency safeguards of Yondr in an emergency, but Dugoni replied that their “general protocol” only included “multiple unlocking stations” and a landline.[11]

Third, it won’t be long before Yondr is pushed aside by smartphone application developers and manufacturers.  Apple is already working on technology that would selectively disable a cell phone’s photo and video capabilities. [12]  Apple’s patent utilizes infrared signals with encoded data which—when received by an iPhone—would disable a function of the device, such as the photo or video application. [13]  The patent also contemplates less intrusive measures, such as applying a watermark to any detected images. [14]

Finally, the usefulness of Yondr depends on our respective inabilities to control our mobile phone addictions.  As mobile phone addiction becomes increasingly prevalent, more drastic measures may be taken that ultimately render Yondr obsolete.

To that end, Yondr’s tagline is ironically appropriate: “be here now”… maybe because Yondr won’t be here later. [15]


(665 Words)

[1] See, e.g., “Is It Time to Ban Phones From Concerts?” The GRAMMYs, by Roy Trakin (Aug. 25, 2016), available at http://www.grammy.com/news/is-it-time-to-ban-phones-from-concerts (describing a concert during which Adele chastised a fan saying “I know you’re taking a picture, but I’m talking to you in real life,” but then later asked everyone to hold up their phone to provide a “glittering backgrop”).

[2] See generally http://www.OverYondr.com.

[3] See generally http://www.OverYondr.com.

[4] “The Anti-Cellphone Tech Used By Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., and Guns N’ Roses,” BloombergBusinessweek, by Adam Satariano (July 15, 2016), available at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-15/the-anti-cellphone-tech-used-by-dave-chappelle-louis-c-k-and-guns-n-roses.

[5] See, e.g., “Why Patton Oswalt Tore Into an Audience Member and Why There Are No Winners,” LaughSpin.com, by Dylan P. Gadino (Jan. 9, 2012), available at http://www.laughspin.com/why-patton-oswalt-tore-into-an-audience-member-and-why-there-are-no-winners.

[6] “Hannibal Buress Partners with Yondr so People Will Stop Using Their Phones at Shows,” The Daily Dot, by Audra Schroeder (May 19, 2015), available at http://www.dailydot.com/debug/hannibal-buress-yondr-phones-shows (noting how a bootlegged video of Hannibal Burress’ stand-up routine refocused public attention on Bill Cosby rape allegations).

[7] See http://www.OverYondr.com.

[8] Your Phone’s on Lockdown.  Enjoy the Show.”  The New York Times, by Janet Morrissey (Oct. 15, 2016), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/technology/your-phones-on-lockdown-enjoy-the-show.html?_r=0.

[9] “Smartphone Lock Pouch Leaves Students to Their Own (Unusable) Devices,” Scientific American, by Larry Greenemeier (May 8, 2015), available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smartphone-lock-pouch-leaves-students-to-their-own-unusable-devices.

[10] See “Is It Time to Ban Phones From Concerts?” The GRAMMYs, supra Endnote 1 (quoting William Morris Endeavor executive Marc Geiger, “It’s a very necessary annoyance, but also serves as both marketing and promotion. Everyone wants to share the content on social media to show that they were there.”).

[11] Yondr is Turning Concerts Into “No-Phone Zones,” ConsequenceOfSound.net, by Sami Jarroush (Jan. 4, 2016), available at http://consequenceofsound.net/video/yondr-is-turning-concerts-into-no-phone-zones.

[12] “Apple Granted Patent For Way to Stop iPhones From Taking Photos at Concerts or Sensitive Locations,” 9to5Mac.com, by Ben Lovejoy (June 28, 2016), available at https://9to5mac.com/2016/06/28/apple-patent-infra-red-block-photos.  But see “Why Apple’s Patent to Disable Your Phone’s Camera Is So 1984,” Forbes, by Kalev Leetaru (July 31, 2016), available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/07/31/why-apples-patent-to-disable-your-phones-camera-is-so-1984/#30877defebe0.

[13] U.S. Patent 9,380,225 (granted June 28, 2016), Tiscareno, Victor M., Jonhson, Kevin W., and Lawrence, Cindy H., Inventors.  Systems and methods for receiving infrared data with a camera designed to detect images based on visible light, available at http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PTXT&s1=9,380,225&OS=9,380,225&RS=9,380,225.

[14] U.S. Patent 9,380,225, supra Endnote 13.

[15] http://www.overyondr.com



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Student comments on Turn In Your Phone, and Tune In to Life

  1. HCL, love this! I am increasingly disappointed by how “tuned out” so many of us are in everyday life or how we watch some of life’s greatest moments through a camera lens rather than through our own eyes.

    In some respects, Yondr is a reaction to what digitization has done to our human experience. As I walked to Harvard Square past the Kennedy School bus stop last week, I couldn’t help but note that all 8 riders were in exactly the same position: head down, left hand in jacket pocket, right hand cradling a phone, thumb scrolling in the familiar up-and-down pattern. 5 were wearing headphones. Now granted, a bus stop is not necessarily where you are going to strike up a deep conversation and meet your best friend, but to those 8 riders, it was as if no one else existed in the world. I thought to myself “what the iPhone really did for society.”

    Consumer digitization gives us access to innumerable useful features (how did we go anywhere before there was a blue dot and a blue path that told us where to turn?), but it has also limited human interaction. Although I think your assessment is likely correct that Yondr will not be around for long, I avidly support their efforts to force us to enjoy the moment, with additional benefits for the comedians, artists, teachers, and restauranteurs who need a focused audience. However ultimately, reducing digitization’s negative impacts on our community lives will not come from the next tech gadget, but instead from ourselves and a personal commitment to enjoy the people we are with when we are with them. Life is ultimately a human experience, let’s let digitization empower that, not get in the way of it.

  2. HCL, what an interesting concept! Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    I feel that this post touches on one of the greatest shortcomings of the modern age – phone-addiction and the inability to “be here now”. One interesting aspect of this is the growing trend of mindfulness, as people find it harder and harder to focus on the present. This, personally for me, is a big problem and sometimes I just catch myself in the act of walking three city blocks without raising my head.

    While the problems you present for Yondr are substantial and I agree that the future does not seem bright for this company I believe the concept and its application is important and will prevail. Another interesting application of this is driving – with smarter and connected cars, I would love to see a day where phones are locked while driving, at least for non-verbal use.

    Finally I think that the HBS classroom is a great example of how Yondr’s concept can have a great effect on our daily lives and interpersonal interactions. With no electronic devices to lure us away, we are left to quite simply… “be here now”.

  3. Wow this is such an interesting idea! I believe this mind blowing start-up has a lot of growth potential in the future where everyone of us to some extend suffer from phone or tablet addiction whether directly or indirectly. HBS classrooms, conferences… would be one of the first to embrace this new technology. I agree though that concerts or stand up comedy will not necessarily be consuming target due to the constraints you already pointed out. I also believe that many mobile phone and accessories big players will sooner or later jump into this field and Yondr will hardly survive a buy-out even if it continues its existence.

  4. This is such an unusual concept…and as the other comments have noted above it’s fascinating how society has gotten to the place where we need this kind of technology!

    My biggest concern with the business (in addition to what you not above about emergency situations and becoming obsolete) is who is going to pay for it? Of course megastars like Adele can afford to spend thousands of dollars on these pouches…but comedians tend not to earn that much until they hit the big time. Can they really afford to buy a new set of pouches for every single gig?

    I also think there will be huge backlash from companies like Snapchat, who’s entire business model is based on integrating our phones with our daily experiences. Will Snapchat counteract with a technology that blocks the blocking? And what happens when we all start using snapchat glasses?

  5. Thanks HCL for bringing this interesting subject on the table!

    I totally agree with the observation: going to concerts and festivals and seeing a sea of bright mobile phone screens in front of the performer is really desapointing, and totally ruins the atmosphere.
    However, I’m not convinced by the answer brought by Yondr, in addition to the concerns you very well explained in your article:
    – Like Dev, I wonder who would be ready to pay for this? A concert hall like the Bataclan has a capacity of 1,500 people, and there is a concert almost every day. Getting equipped with Yondr would cost 365 x 1,500 x 2 = around 1M€!
    – I’m also concerned by the customers’ perception. If I was forced to use this item I would very much have the feeling that the artist does not trust its fans, and needs to use a third party equipment to fight them. For me, a simple message at the beginning of the concert, and awareness campains in the press, should be enough, if we use the assumptions that people in the room are mostly favorable to the artist’s best interests.

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