By: Rhoda Miel
September 13, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 13, 5:15 p.m. ET) — Last year, iPhone case maker Hard Candy Holdings LLC took a gamble on what it expected would be the next-generation shape of the smart phone.
It was wrong. The iPhone 4S introduced in 2011 was the same size and shape as the previous versions of the smart phone.
But this year, when the San Francisco-based company had access to leaked designs for the iPhone 5, it decided to double down.
“We made the bet the last time the … rumors were circulating and we lost,” said founder Tim Hickman in a Sept. 13 news release. “This isn’t a failure, but simply part of this crazy Apple accessory business.
“This time, we doubled the investment and have product ready for the market.”
Technology reporters from multiple publications said they even had Hard Candy’s ShockDrop case — with a polycarbonate structural frame protecting the face — in their hands an hour before Apple Inc. began its Sept. 12 news conference introducing the iPhone 5.
That conference confirmed the leaked designs, with a phone body that will be longer and thinner than its previous models. The ShockDrop case even accounts for a smaller connector and a shift of the earphone port to the bottom of the phone.
“Now that the fit has been verified, iPhone 5 cases are ready to ship from Hong Kong,” Hickman said.
That smaller connection port will prompt design changes for makers of other accessory products.
The iPhone has used the same 30-pin connector for charging and to connect to computers, speakers and other electronics since it debuted in 2003. The new digital Lightning connector is 80 percent smaller, more durable and more efficient, said Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Apple, during the press conference launching the new phone and iPods.
Apple will sell converters that will allow existing 30-pin accessories to connect to the new Lightning ports, but also expects that other companies will make their own changes to keep up.
“We’re working with accessory makers to have them integrate Lightning connectors into their products,” Schiller said.
Key brand names such as Bose, JBL and Bang & Olufsen will have items ready in time for the holiday season, he said.
SDI Technologies Inc. of Rahway, N.J., makes multiple accessories under the iHome brand name, including clocks and stereos that double as charging ports for iPhones and iPods. Past design tweaks have allowed the company to accommodate different sizes of devices, but the change in connectors will add complexity to future products.
“We are continuing to work on the legacy products that are owned by millions and millions while simultaneously planning our new line of products compatible with the new devices,” said spokesman Evan Stein in an email. “We will work on shorter-term solutions (where needed) on products already in production, but will take shape and size of the new models into account at the earliest design phase.”
Converters will not help one niche product that grew out of Apple accessories. Apple is changing the shape of its iPod Nano from a small square to a longer, thinner rectangle. That last-generation Nano was at the center of Scott Wilson’s LunaTik and TikTok — wrist bands that used the Nano as a watch face.
Wilson, who also runs Chicago-based industrial design group Minimal Inc., was a breakaway-business-story entrepreneur when he raised nearly $1 million through the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to launch the LunaTik.
The new Nano shape introduced Sept. 12 lacks the easy ability to convert to a wristwatch, said Gina Doctor, communications manager for Minimal, although Wilson and his group will check out the new shape for potential.
But even if the LunaTik ends its product life with the changed Nano, it has still opened a new door for Minimal.
“We’re grateful for the Nano, and the LunaTik is the reason that we have all these other products within the [Apple] ecosystem,” she said.
Minimal closed its second successful Kickstarter program in July, raising more than $680,000 for the TakTik, a rugged iPhone case intended for heavy-duty use and abuse. The case was available to Kickstarter supporters in aluminum, although retail sales are launching with a plastic bezel, Doctor said.
The TakTik can also be married to a bike mount for users who plan to take it out into the woods.
Even as Minimal was developing the TakTik concept, though, it knew a new iPhone was on its way — one that would likely require changes.
Rather than guess that the leaked design information was correct, the company moved ahead with a version for the iPhone 4, figuring that the marketplace was still filled with older versions and would be for years.
At the same time, it told potential customers it was already making plans for a TakTik for the iPhone 5, Doctor said.
“There were things that we were anticipating, but you don’t know for certain until it’s out there,” she said. “Our plan now is to execute on one for the iPhone 5 as well as the 4 and deliver it as soon as we can.”