Review: iPhone Smart Battery Case
Apple fans can’t get over the hump.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Apple created a battery case for the iPhone 6/6s. Apple has released its first smart battery case, joining a fleet of third-party accessory makers including Mophie who produce iPhone cases with an extra battery built in. It may seem weird that Apple would release a new type of product unannounced, and it may also seem weird that the company chose to enter the competitive market of battery cases. Unlike most third-party battery cases, Apple’s solution for having a battery boosting case involves soft silicon edges and a big hump right in the middle of the phone.
The case spells good news for users desperate to extend their battery life but unwilling to purchase Apple’s large-screen iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus, which offer up to 24 hours of 3G talk time. But unlike competing products, Apple’s, which touts the fact that it is “designed by Apple,” has a battery that sticks out, prompting criticism from reviewers. But there’s another element at play here: the biggest name in battery cases is Mophie, and Mophie has tons of patents on the design and functionality of these things. Wired called the product “so ugly it’s almost sarcastic.” Apple has long been known for paying far more attention to the look of its products compared to its traditional competitors. Samuel Gibbs, technology reporter for The Guardian, described it as being “stuck like a lump” on the outside of the case, and said the overall design looked “like a cheap Chinese knockoff.” His colleague, technology editor Alex Hern, was even less charitable, questioning why Apple’s newest phone “requires a $99 [US] tumour to last from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.” instead of being made “two millimetres thicker in the first place” for longer battery life.
Citing sources with knowledge of the plans, 9to5Mac.com reports that Apple is planning to unveil its second-generation Apple Watch at an event in March 2016, with the new Watch shipping by April. Once you realize you need to bend the top back a little (as Apple clearly demonstrates in that aforementioned diagram that I totally ignored), it’s pretty damned easy to snap in place. The first claim lays out, well, a Mophie battery case — and any other case that has all of these (paraphrased) elements would infringe on Mophie’s patent: 1. The Cupertino, Calif.-based firm has also been working on a new “iPhone 6c” with a 4-inch display that could make its debut at the March event, according to 9to5Mac.com. A lower case that contains a battery and sides that extend along a mobile device, with internal and external power connectors, and an on / off switch.
There are no indicator lights that show the case’s battery, and no on/off switch that will initiate charge, instead the case acts like it’s part of your battery. You can find some cases that use Lightning, but they generally won’t be able to do everything — you might need to take the case off to use those cases off to transfer data over Lightning, for example. And as The Wall Street Journal points out, similar third-party cases tend to have higher battery capacity at lower cost, with ancillary options like turning the case on and off. There’s a status indicator tucked inside the case for when you’ve got it charging on its own — once you slip your phone in, it’ll hide behind your handset.
Of course, there’s also been chatter of fancier batteries in Apple’s future, with prior reports of innovations like rechargeable hydrogen fuel cells for phones. I wish they’d gone with some sort of multi-LED status indicator to display charge status, so you could check if your case is ready to go without slapping everything together or finding a Lightning cable. For good reason: A third of adults see “improved battery life” as the smartphone feature they are most excited about, the leading answer in a Fortune magazine survey of 1,000 people taken online in January. A smooth, suede-like material inside makes it feel pretty high-end, with the added bonus of cleaning up all those fingerprints off the rear of your phone whenever you slide it in.
There’s also any number of design patents at play here; virtually every popular Mophie case has a design patent on its ornamental, nonfunctional elements. (For example, newer Mophie cases have a detachable bottom part; the company has design patents on that variation.) If you look at the rest of the battery cases out there, you’ll notice that most companies stay away from Mophie’s two-part design: the vast majority of cases use snap-on bezels, while a few use sled designs. It’s not going to boost the sound a whole lot, but it keeps you from having to cup your hand near the bottom of your handset to hear your jams Given that they control both the hardware and the software, Apple gets to pull a few tricks that the competitors can’t. The case also manages to walk the middle ground between the slipperiness of a naked iPhone 6s, and those high-friction cheap silicone cases that are hard to pull out of tight pockets.
By charging hard in the other direction: making a single-piece case with a floppy top and a bulging battery that has nothing in common with various patented Mophie designs. (Bonus points if you also spotted the lurking trade dress issue: lots of people call these cases “Mophies” regardless of brand, and by creating a totally distinct design, Apple also sidestepped any potential likelihood of confusion with the Mophie products.) So that’s my theory — Apple didn’t have a comment when I asked. And the hump, while controversial, actually feels really nice in the hand; it makes the device contour to my hand a bit better, giving my pointer finger something of a ledge to rest on.
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