After-market device solutions: What are they good for?

Why are after-market casings so popular with consumers especially for portable devices? Are they just about protecting the product? Are existing product designs too boring? Have consumers lost confidence in the quality of product manufacturing? Or, do they just want to customize their devices to be unique and special, as we have seen in Asia’s extensive customization culture?

Fashion_Small.jpg
Leather, custom decals and heavy-duty rubber covers.

The iPhone is beautifully designed, engineered, and manufactured. Apple has used high-quality materials to avoid scratches and heavier damage that come along with daily use. There are no painted parts, which would easily scratch to reveal the substrate. The early complaint about the physical construction was that its sleek finish made the phone too slippery. The absence of grip details on the surface, and the aluminum casing of the first generation, made the problem worse. Apart from this flaw, the physical form of the iPhone is well-designed, and I think it has great potential to display the aged patina that comes from long life and high-quality materials. Which makes me wonder: Why cover it up with a cheap plastic cover?Patina2.jpg
Leather goods and high-quality watches are great examples of products that can age well.

You can trace the after-market casings to the first generation of iPods, when it became apparent that the polycarbonate displays were easily scratched. The protective casings can be expensive — up to $50 for simple protection and up to $80 if you add functional improvements. Even with today’s more scratch-proof surface materials such as glass, these cases can be a necessity for those who carry their phones with keys and other hard edged objects. Protecting the display and preventing accidental activation of controls is essential, and customers can choose from a massive selection of styles, materials, patterns and functionalities.

Companies took advantage of the shortcomings of the original designs and created a whole new industry around customization and product improvement of existing devices adding a huge product offering.

A culture of super-sized devices

Casings represent a sort of “double everything” trend in product manufacturing, i.e., doubling the design, engineering, manufacturing, packaging and shipping efforts. Additionally, the devices are getting much bigger in size when a secondary material wall thickness is added. The choice of material can alter the performance of the device, e.g. when a rubber casing makes it hard to get the device out of the pocket. In some designs, the original design is not even visible or touchable anymore. What is the point then of a nicely designed and engineered portable product?

Portable electronics manufacturers should invest more in final product quality to achieve longer lasting and really portable products people like to use. There are simply too many things that are too cheaply made. Products that “age well” material- and quality-wise, are more environmentally responsible and, in my opinion, more beautiful.

Of course, not all after-market casings are wasteful; some satisfy needs that are unmet in the product itself. Arm and belt holders are often not supplied (Belkin, Sport Armband); battery extension covers (Incase, Power Slider) have their place as a result of the limited battery life of Apple products; stands are critical for those who often use their portable devices as displays (Crystal Jacket).

Added_Function2.jpg

A new direction for this paradigm

What if a product came in two forms? One form (A) could be a durable, fully finished version; the second form (B) could be a raw sheet metal core engine, so to speak, that the customer can customize with an after-market case of their choosing. The latter device would perhaps be available at a lower price point, and with an after-market cover wouldn’t be bigger in size than the fully completed version.

Sketch_final_small.jpg

7 Comments

Martin Polley
The Modu mobile phone is very similar in concept to the second form that you suggest: http://www.modumobile.com/
Nate
A middle ground for product customization is being addressed, in part, with just-in-time manufacturing models. Although, from what I've seen, these have been largely cosmetic. For an example, check out: http://www.theflip.com/store/MinoHD.aspx
Michael Voege
Thank you both for sharing the links! The modu mobile concept is definitely along those lines.
Alex
I think the big issue is that when it comes to Apple products, I don't care how much they say they are durable, they're not. Seen iPhones all scratched up and such from regular usage, and it only pushed me to get a screen protector and case when I got mine. Same deal when I had a 5th Gen iPod. I agree with the statement that makers of portable electronics need to take in mind wear and tear when designing their products. While I love my iPhone, my main deal with cell phones is that I need to be able to shove it into my pocket and not worry about it coming out a mess in some way, shape, or form. This is usability, but a different type of usability. It's about how the consumer will use the product in their daily lives. No one wants to shell out a lot of money for a gadget they have to baby around. I also agree that some of this is about customization.
Ben McKenzie
I only got a case for my iPhone to make it easy to distinguish from those belonging to my friends; unlike the Nano, iPhones (and indeed most models of mobile phone) don't come in a variety of styles and colours. I like the basic iPhone design a lot: light, easy to use, and not really all that slippery. I've also found it durable, and I've dropped it a few times, though not from a great height; I'm not too concerned with little scratches or dents, only that it doesn't sustain damage that means I can't use it any more. With my case on (a Griffin Nu Form hard case, which includes a polycarbonate screen protector), I've found it works pretty much the same, except that it's bulkier and heavier, and to be honest I'm wondering if I'll continue using it. On the other hand, I bought a rubber sleeve for my iPod classic, which I stopped using since it didn't really seem to serve a purpose. I don't recall dropping it, but after it spent a while in my laptop bag it no longer works, and I can't imagine any particular case design preventing whatever impact caused that.
cihan sakinc
what is the design environment of capacity touch screen for cell phones. cna anyone say it?
madhav
Im not clear, customer loss confident in products if aftermarket solutions?

Post a comment

We’re trying to advance the conversation, and we trust that you will, too. We’d rather not moderate, but we will remove any comments that are blatantly inflammatory or inappropriate. Let it fly, but keep it clean. Thanks.

Post this comment