According to internal Apple research that was publicized last year, roughly 80% of iPhone owners use cases to protect their devices, and obviously iPod and iPad cases are popular, too. iLounge recently reached out to some of the biggest case designers in the industry to gather their thoughts on various aspects of case design. Here’s the last part of our three-part series on the state of Apple case design in 2013, focusing on the evolution of the market, the role of innovation, and the future of case design. Click here for part one on protection and priorities, and part two on designing to Apple’s specifications.
iLounge: iPod cases used to be a huge business, but now they’re an afterthought. How has the case market changed since the iPhone and iPad were introduced?
Jay Jun, Marketing Associate, Spigen: The market has changed tremendously. For one, the market has become much bigger. The introduction of the iPhone started the touchscreen era which made devices more fragile. It was only natural to see cases turn into more of a necessity than an option. Not to mention the rapid evolution of how the iPhone and iPad were utilized. The versatility and increase in functionality has made it an essential item to have with us at all times, which opened up a whole new demand for case variety.
Chris Robinette, Senior VP of Product, Incase: The introduction of the iPhone and iPad has definitely changed the user base of iPod, which now skews much younger than before. The iPod is still relevant, but we’ve taken care to put an emphasis on more youth-driven designs, like playful graphics and gamer-specific features.
Brian Thomas, President and CEO, OtterBox: We still offer protective cases for each new iPod touch device. We definitely see more traffic with our cases for the iPhone and iPad, but that doesn’t mean we don’t see the iPod line as an important part of our offerings. Many people choose iPod devices as a way to disconnect from phone, email and all of the other “always-on” aspects of a smartphone while still enjoying music. And they’re often seeking this solitude while out enjoying the world, which is where our cases really perform. iPods are also popular among children, who are notoriously tough on technology.
Steve Bau, Managing Director, SwitchEasy: We have seen a major paradigm shift ever since the first iPhone was announced in 2007. After the announcement, consumers [tend towards] all-in-one devices which can serve as a communication hub rather than getting a simple music player such as the iPod. Ever since, our sales of iPod or even iPod touch products consist of a fractional amount of our total revenue.
Michael Pizzimenti, Director of Sales & Marketing, X-Doria: The case market has become more sophisticated. Basic cases like silicone gels, folios, and clips are no longer the standard by which a case is defined. Manufacturing technique, trend focused designs, colors, and other statements of an individual’s personality have become center-stage. The iPad brought the necessity of function to every case… something with a stand, screen coverage, and a professional but stylish look.
iLounge: Does it pay to attempt to innovate, or does it make more sense to stick with tried-and-true designs?
Doug Broadhurst, Marketing Manager, Scosche: At Scosche, we have a two-part strategy that consists of making our tried and true cases available as close to the device launch as possible, and then following up with more complex and innovative cases once the dust settles.
Barry Sween, Design Director, Belkin: Innovation is key to success, especially in a crowded market like ours. Innovation can be a very subtle thing, like simply making it easier to put a case on and take it off, or something radically different that pushes the limits of injection molding technology to a new level. Sometimes innovative thinking makes a case more emotionally satisfying to use and may not even be consciously noticed by the person. Other times it may be a new way of applying a visual effect to a case that appeals to a person’s sense of style and individuality. In either case, the desire to innovate keeps our design team excited and constantly improves our products incrementally, generation after generation.
Spigen: We are always looking to innovate by testing new designs and materials. Not too long ago, we came out with the first glass screen protector which changed the way consumers, as well as companies, view screen protection. So yes, we would much rather innovate and fail, than coast on past momentum.
Bryan Hynecek, VP of Design, Speck: We have to do both and we have structured our teams for this. We have a team that carefully evolves our core, most successful designs, and another that finds all new ways to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.
X-Doria: There is a portion of our brand portfolio that is tried-and-true, but it will be the innovative designs, textures, materials, etc., that help set us apart from the rest of the industry. With so many people now having smartphones, consumers are now looking for cases to make them stand out from the crowd… this is where innovation and design make a difference.
iLounge: What case design trends do you see in the future?
Belkin: Thinner and lighter is a given — however it seems that mobile devices are going in two different directions: smaller and bigger. Smart devices on one hand will be smaller and may become wearable. We have seen smart watches around in the past but maybe we’re ready to see these devices become impactful on a broader level. This opens up a wide opportunity for design to shape how we will interact with technology in a more personal way. How do we make it cool? How do we make it comfortable? What can we do with wearable’s besides tell time, make a phone call and measure how many steps you’ve taken?
Other devices are walking the line between phone and tablet, trying to find out how big is too big. Will people be holding tablets up to their heads to answer a phone call? How can a phone best double as a useful productivity tool? How will tablets integrate with hand held devices? I trust there are really smart people at Apple asking these same questions. Our job is to ask how we can enhance and personalize these new devices to make them more useful and enjoyable for everybody, and we are passionate about it.
Incase: In my opinion, the most interesting trend playing out now is the evolution of the “phablet” range of devices that occupy the space between phones and tablets. People are figuring out what activities these products are best suited for, and how they may replace or augment tablets and phones in their assortment of tools. It’s an exciting time for designing accessories, because it allows us to be part of the dialogue about how these devices are being adopted and to create innovations that help people use them more effectively.
OtterBox: One big trend is going to be global growth of the mobile industry. OtterBox has offices in Cork, Ireland and Hong Kong aimed at understanding and reacting to the needs of our global customers.
Scosche: We feel material choices are becoming stale and that new material options will be the biggest driver of future designs.
Speck: People are beginning to ask more from their cases. It will be less about protection – which is really table stakes – and more about what more a case can do for you beyond just protect it.
Spigen: As the mobile market continues to grow, it is likely that many companies will emerge with great ideas and innovative products. For us, we are excited to see how far we can take screen protection especially with larger displays being the trend at the moment. As new devices are released, there will always be a need for protection and we will be ready to meet those needs. So whether it is large displays or flexible touchscreens, we plan to stay on top of our game and produce the best companions to enhance the device and user experience.
Switcheasy: We see many trends in the future but one of the most important ones is the one of individual expression. That is why we invest a lot in creating collections every year that are not only very protective but also have a very strong and outspoken identity. We create fashion and fun!
X-Doria: Continued efforts to “step up the game.” Whether it is single tooled cases with different prints, textures, and colors, or, unique tools and materials to differentiate, building a brand image and staying on top of the trends is the only way to grow. Additionally, as phones become sturdier (i.e. – no double sided glass on the iPhone), the ability to continue to deliver protection while slimming down bulk is going to be important. From a brand perspective, making a statement of what you are representing and how you are differentiating is going to become more important.