When Can I get a Case for my iPhone 5?
iPhone accessory makers such as speck (shown) will try out new designs for the iPhone 4 then quickly rejigger them when they see what the iPhone 5 will look like.
Scouring the blogs, standing in line outside the Apple store for hours. That's not just the life of Apple fanboys and fangirls, it's how multimillion-dollar iPhone accessory makers do business, too.
"We see the same rumors that everybody else does …. We stand in line just like everybody else," said Bryan Hynecek, director of design at Speck, a popular maker of accessories for Apple products.
Yet they will have new cases for sale about a month after they return from the Apple store. How? The cases are already made, they just don't fit.
"When we're thinking about new cases, we're making them in the iPhone 4 form factor," Hynecek explained. "And then when new products come out, then it's just making a few changes to the form. It's not trying to re-engineer things from the ground up."
It's the same for other companies. "All we can do is keep our ear to the ground and listen to what's out there, said Kyle Ballarta, the director of marketing for LifeProof, a maker of waterproof and drop-proof cases for iPhones and iPads. "We might re-position certain things in different form factors. But essentially, we know we're going to have speakers, we're going to have sensors, we're going to have certain buttons."
The mad dash is not only for iPhones. Speck just had to scramble to get a case ready for the popular Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone that began going on sale this week. (The company makes accessories for several smartphone brands, as well as for e-readers, tablets and other devices.) [Americans Like Android Phones More Than the iPhone]
Speck beat its own record by going from design to sales in less than 30 days for the Galaxy S III. "And usually 25 of those days or 20 of those days are making the mold," Hynecek said. "Cutting steel takes a very significant amount of time."
If they could speed up the old-fashioned mold-making process, companies like Speck might have new cases out in a week or so. But don't count on it. Hynecek said that they had tried other manufacturing processes, but with poor results. For example, cheaper molds might warp when molten plastic is subjected to hundreds of tons of pressure.
And since Speck often combines multiple layers of plastic, the errors get compounded. "[The precision] has to be really good," Hynecek said, "so that you don't have rubber leaking out all over the place."