Mophie’s brand of external battery packs and cases for iPhones have become synonymous with the product category, but this morning Apple took a chunk from the business by introducing its first-ever iPhone case with a built-in battery pack.
Smart Battery Case
Dubbed the Smart Battery Case and designed specifically for iPhone 6 and 6S smartphones, Apple claims its $99 solution delivers protection and up to 25-hours talk time, 18-hours browsing and/or up to 20-hours audio or video playback.
Manufactured using Apple’s own soft touch silicone the lined case features a hinge design to help get it on and off your phone. The battery sits inside a small bump on the back of the case (see picture). “With the Smart Battery Case on, the intelligent battery status is displayed on the iPhone Lock screen and in Notification Center, so you know exactly how much charge you have left,” Apple explains.
Critics will probably spin reality with the FUD that by offering its own battery pack for iPhones, Apple is tacitly admitting battery life in its devices is a challenge. I’d argue the move simply shows Apple accepting reality. Every manufacturer faces battery life constraints and this is why most reputable ones try to tweak their devices to deliver maximum performance for minimal power outlay, rather than packing them with battery life devouring high-spec features that just don't work well.
Huge investments are being made in improving smartphone battery life, with several promising new technologies emerging. Some of the more exciting solutions will be energy-harvesting clothing based on research being done by the Powerweave alliance.
The problem today is that none of these new solutions has reached prime time, despite the world’s growing dependence and addiction to mobile solutions. This leaves manufacturers like Apple in a bind – customers demand increasingly sophisticated and powerful devices, but battery life holds innovation back.
Apple may also have noticed how many of the pre-release product rumors seem to emerge from case manufacturers.
The rapidly expanding mobile device market means the portable battery market is growing at an astonishing rate.
Markets and Markets predicts the portable battery pack market will be worth $10.94 billion by 2020. The annual IHS Technology World Market for External Power Adapters and Chargers report last year predicted this would become a $9 billion market by 2018. ABI Research values the mobile device accessory market as worth around $81.5 billion, growing to $101 billion by 2020.
Mophie was acquired by mStation shortly before the first iPhone appeared 2007. Since then it has grown into a $200 million or more business.
Under pressure to continue to deliver growth, Apple now intends taking a slice of this growing segment. As the company that inspired the accessories market, it is very well positioned to do so.
There are no guarantees. Apple’s history shows it doesn’t always get accessories right. Who else remembers the well-received but over-priced iPod HiFi, boxes of which were piled in Apple CEO, Steve Jobs’ office?
“Protective carry cases is the top growing category, contributing the most to aftermarket mobile accessories shipments, followed by chargers, screen protectors and headsets,” ABI Research says.
iPhone users are a far more active group and far more likely to accessorize their products. GfK claimed UK iPhone users purchased 5 million iPhone cases in 2014.
What’s interesting is that Apple is quite plainly intent on enveloping the accessory market. It even offers its Beats range of headphones. In the future, CEO Tim Cook has already told us Apple may widen its offering to provide accessories for specific uses, such as Apple Watch-compatible medical devices.
This season, however, it appears Apple plans to eat Mophie. That’s an inevitable conclusion when you consider most iPhone accessory makers do between 40%-60% of their business in the few weeks before Christmas.
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