Months ago, we published the fourth in our series of iDesign feature articles—the only one to focus on cases—which spotlighted significant, innovative iPod case designs from Japanese developers Power Support and Miyavix. Last month, we caught up with Power Support’s President and Founder, Ryoichi Mase, who filled us in on the Tokyo-based company’s history, philosophy, and historical products. Originally published in excerpted form in The Free iPod + iPhone Book 4, here is the larger version of the interview; we hope you enjoy.
(1) You’ve been selling Macintosh accessories, including some very eye-catching ones, for years. Can you tell us a bit about your company’s history, including why you started to make Mac products, and then iPod ones?
Ryoichi Mase, Power Support: We have been Macintosh users since 1987, when the Mac Ⅱ was introduced, and we truly are Macintosh lovers, just as many people are. In 1994, we started to make accessories for our beloved Macs and when the iPod was introduced we naturally wanted to extend our devotion to the iPod.
(2) Most of the world’s iPods were purchased years after you invented the first silicone rubber iPod case. Can you give our readers a history lesson on how the original Silicone Jacket case was designed, and what happened after you released it?
Mase: Two years before the iPod was released, we produced a silicone mouse pad which was very well-received. We wanted to use that technology to produce a new silicone rubber product; when iPod was released, it was the perfect challenge to come up with a protective case. We started developing the silicone case, intending to provide protection that complimented the beauty of the iPod’s design.
Our first iPod silicone cases debuted three months after the first-generation iPod. We continue to produce medical grade Silicone Jackets for the current iPod classic, touch, and third-generation nano lineup. The positive response to this new type of case was the ultimate compliment, but we continue to improve our designs with enthusiasm.
(3) Several years ago, it seemed like just about every iPod accessory company had its own copy of Silicone Jacket. Some of the designers we’ve spoken with are indifferent to clones, while others are upset. Back when this first happened, you published an open letter regarding one cloner; tell us your perspective today.
Mase: The open letter was published by a reseller of ours, he realized that there was a sudden drop in the orders coming for the US. After some investigation we were surprised to find that our cases were being sold under another company’s brand name. Today, we look back with pride that the silicone case we introduced has helped create such a large accessory market. [Editor’s Note: The reseller was Miyavix, later Power Support’s partner in fabric cases.]
(4) The Square Type Silicone Jacket remains one of our favorite iPod case designs. What inspired this case, and were there any similar ideas that got rejected?
Mase: The Square design was born from a wish to encase a iPod with a simple design, somewhat like cacooning a beautiful butterfly with glass.
Some designs simply were not practical in implementation; we have refined the tooling process with each new project, but sometimes you simply cannot achieve a finished product that is practical.
(5) There were many clear plastic cases like Crystal Jacket on the market, but the Mirror Type/Illusion Case was a completely new idea. Can you tell us how this case was developed, and the technical challenges you faced?
Mase: Known for our simple designs, we wanted to surprise our consumers. Through trial and error we refined a special coating technology, making the screen invisible when the iPod is turned off, but when powered up, the screen is visible with clarity. This seems simple, yet it was very difficult to adjust the transparency of the mirror.
(6) We still recall seeing the Kimono Case for the first time, and being extremely impressed by the originality, quality, and attention to the iPod’s screen and controls. How did this case come to be, and will you make versions for newer iPods and the iPhone?
Mase: Using traditional kimono textiles is popular in Japan, but using it to envelop such a sleek modern device was intriguing. We were so pleased that sharing our traditional culture has been so well received in the U.S.A. We are considering new designs for the coming iPod and iPhone, as well.
(7) As designs such as Silicone Jacket and the Kimono Case suggest, Power Support and Miyavix are both decidedly Japanese companies, with certain culturally-influenced perspectives on what makes an iPod accessory worthwhile. How has your company’s Japanese heritage influenced your products, and the way you’ve developed your business?
Mase: We feel great design translates universally and enjoy sharing Japanese aesthetics, so we are very pleased by the positive response we have received. As for our heritage, we look at ourselves as citizens of the world and share the same dreams to expand in an ethical, moral and ecological way.
(8) So many cases out there strive to be flashy, but with only rare exceptions, Power Support’s tend to be minimalist. Can you explain why?
Mase: We go back to our original love of the Mac, mindful that we compliment Apples simple beauty. We strive to make our case stand out with careful implemation of details and use the best, innovative materials.
(9) Power Support has been a leader in designing and selling iPod protective films for years; your “3-D” Click Wheel covers are still the industry’s best. How do you differentiate your film these days from the ones that get tossed into packages by other case makers?
Mase: We continue to refine our film by making it more consumer friendly with each new generation of product. The current model has a larger backing that easily peels away from the film, and the special silcone adhesion makes bubble-free adhesion easy, as well as leaving no residue when removing the film. We also have two film finishes; currently the anti-glare is most popular.
Manufacturing 3-D Click Wheel demands very high technology. The process is being protected with a patent.
(10) Many of your company’s products are sold only in Japan. If there was one Japan-only product, iPod, iPhone, or otherwise, that you wish you could get outsiders to appreciate more, what would it be, and why?
Mase: That would be the Silicone Mouse Pad, which inspired us to produce the Silicone Jacket. In order to achieve the best mouse movement, we have been manufacturing this with very high technology, time and effort. The special features are:
1. The movement of the pointer is very smooth, and it has a high degree of stability at any position.
2. The adhesive force of the silicone rubber prevents the mouse pad from falling off the side of your desk.
3. A special surface treatment prevents the mouse pad from being stained.
4. The special surface treatment makes the mouse pad very durable.
5. The mouse pad lowers the sound coming from the mouse when it’s moving.
This is the origin of our products, so we wish people could try it at least once.
iLounge: Thank you for your time.
[Editor’s Note: Translation provided by Keiko Napier of Power Support USA. Additional notes on the creation of iDesign are available here.]