Ques­tion­ing Ap­ple’s bat­tery case

Why now? Why the bulge? Is it an Ap­ple prod­uct?

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS - Michael Si­mon

What’s with that Ap­ple bat­tery pack?” If you’re the res­i­dent Ap­ple know-it-all in your fam­ily/ of­fice/school, you prob­a­bly heard this ques­tion more than once this week. It’s an ap­pro­pri­ate one to ask when the big­gest com­pany in the world dropped one of its strangest re­leases: a bat­tery case with a weird hump that prom­ises to ex­tend the life of your iPhone 6 or 6s by 25 hours. I won’t say it’s awk­ward, but had it been re­leased by a com­pany like Grif­fin or even Mo­phie, it would have a hard

time find­ing some­one to sit with in the cafe­te­ria. But since it’s Ap­ple, the whole world no­ticed. The tim­ing of the re­lease was cu­ri­ous in it­self – on a ran­dom Tues­day, just 17 days be­fore Christ­mas – but even if it had been un­veiled along­side the iPhone 6s in Septem­ber, it would have been no less of an odd­ity. It might be the most un-Ap­ple prod­uct ever re­leased, and I have to won­der if Jony Ive even saw it be­fore it was sent to pro­duc­tion.

And each time I was posed the above ques­tion, I strug­gled to an­swer it.

Worst case sce­nario

When the first im­age of Ap­ple’s bat­tery case popped up in my Twit­ter time­line, I scrolled right past it. It wasn’t un­til I saw the same im­age up three or four more times in near suc­ces­sion when I re­al­ized it wasn’t some­one’s joke mock-up.

Now Ap­ple hasn’t ex­actly had a stel­lar record when it comes to cases. There were the funky iPhone 5c cov­ers that showed un­sightly bits of words through the holes. The iPhone 4 bumpers that were more about re­cep­tion than pro­tec­tion. And who can for­get the ut­terly bizarre iPod Socks? But some­thing trou­bled me about the bat­tery case even more than the de­sign. It’s not just that it’s cum­ber­some and goofy; rather, it seems to be try­ing to ad­dress a spe­cific cus­tomer com­plaint with the iPhone 6.

Of course, you can ar­gue that the iPhone 6 it­self is an an­swer to spe­cific com­plaint about the size of the screen com­pared to its An­droid foes, but the bat­tery case feels dif­fer­ent. When Ap­ple de­signed the iPhone 6, it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion and

de­sign evo­lu­tion. Ev­ery de­ci­sion – the size of the bat­tery, the pro­tru­sion of the cam­era, the place­ment of the power but­ton – was made to cre­ate the best prod­uct, warts and all.

The bat­tery case doesn’t look like it went through the same process. It’s as if Tim Cook or Phil Schiller read a bunch of dis­parag­ing iPhone posts and called a meet­ing. And that’s not how Ap­ple op­er­ates.

Los­ing fo­cus

There’s no way to know whether Steve Jobs would have signed off on Ap­ple’s first bat­tery case, but we do know that he de­spised knee-jerk prod­ucts: “It’s re­ally hard to de­sign prod­ucts by fo­cus groups. A lot of times, peo­ple don’t know what they want un­til you show it to them.”

But if there was ever a fo­cus group prod­uct, it’s this one. While there’s still some cool in­no­va­tions in­side that make it smarter than the av­er­age bat­tery case – the Light­ning con­nec­tion is a nice ad­di­tion and the live sta­tus up­dates are par­tic­u­larly clever – with­out the Ap­ple sym­bol on the back it would never be mis­taken for a Cu­per­tino prod­uct. And at £79, I can’t imag­ine it’s go­ing to fly off shelves.

The iPhone bat­tery case is a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem, but I just don’t think it’s one Ap­ple strongly be­lieves needs solv­ing. Peo­ple have been com­par­ing it to the Magic Mouse’s charg­ing port or the Ap­ple Pen­cil’s

built-in Light­ning charger, but those are de­sign com­pro­mises made for style and con­ve­nience. The Ap­ple Pen­cil might look funny stick­ing out the end of the iPad Pro, but the care and de­tail put into its de­sign is ob­vi­ous. With the bat­tery case, not so much.

Cause and ef­fect

Ap­ple doesn’t need to cre­ate reactionary prod­ucts. It has an army of third-party part­ners that are happy to fill spe­cific needs that arise as peo­ple dis­cover things that Ap­ple chose to over­look. Some smarts aside, the iPhone bat­tery case doesn’t re­ally of­fer much that the Mo­phie Juice Pack doesn’t, and it’s hard to un­der­stand its rea­son for ex­ist­ing, other than the oc­ca­sional up­sell to an un­scrupu­lous iPhone 6 or 6s buyer at an Ap­ple Store.

Of course, this could all just be an over­re­ac­tion. A £79 ac­ces­sory is ba­si­cally a round­ing er­ror on Ap­ple’s bot­tom line, and af­ter a few weeks it’ll just blend into the oth­ers on the shelf at the Ap­ple Store. By the time the iPhone 7 comes around we’ll prob­a­bly for­get it ever ex­isted.

It’s no se­cret that Ap­ple does its best work when it’s giv­ing its cus­tomers prod­ucts they want, not what they want in a prod­uct, and I hope this isn’t a sign of a shift­ing phi­los­o­phy. The Ap­ple I love builds prod­ucts on its own terms. It doesn’t re­spond to squeaky wheels with a gen­er­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of grease.

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