20 August 2019

The Future of Mobile Phone Cases

Through the rise and fall of various new technologies and trends, the face of the mobile phone case market is sure to change drastically, but many of the core aspects will retain their familiarity.

Currently, it’s safe to assume that most phone users have a case. Both B2B and B2C phone retailers – online and brick and mortar – are increasingly offering cases at the point of sale; bundled as a benefit or an up-sale, with the potential to sell a £500-1000+ phone typically outweighing the relatively small loss of the case cost.

Whether for protection, utility, style – or all of the above – phone manufacturers are beginning to recognise the demand for cases, to the degree that they have started to design phones in a way that benefits from the addition of a case. A prime example of this is the trend for phones with camera bumps. A poor design choice on first look, from both an aesthetic and a functional standpoint, as the phone will not sit flat and may catch on clothes. However, when combined with a case (as most consumers will do) this issue is resolved. It allows for a significant improvement to camera quality without the need to degrade the aesthetics of the phone or make the main shell thicker (a common theme in phone marketing being the slimness of the model.)

It has been a slow uptake, but as manufacturers begin to feel more confident that consumers see phones and cases as an unquestionable combination, they will be able to extend this concept to other areas of design. This also benefits the OEMs, allowing post purchase customisation of phones with new features (e.g. Waterproofing).

One of the key areas that may see change is the structural rigidity of the phone itself. If an OEM can guarantee that their phones will always be used in cases, then there is little point in building a phone with a thick robust shell. This means that manufacturers can either create thinner and cheaper phones, or use the saved space for additional battery life; widely believed to be the holy grail of smartphone development in the coming years. The change in form factor to larger and thinner devices, with larger expanses of glass (typically the weakest part), has already brought about a need for more robust cases, but the benefit of these cases has yet to be fully realised.

One can look back to the years when mobile phones were first becoming mainstream to see how integral cases can be. Many phones came with entire plastic shells which could be swapped out for new styles. These were often made by the manufacturer, at a time when the accessories market was far smaller than it is today. We may see a return to a similar way of thinking; but with third parties now providing the cases there will be a vast increase in choice. In addition, the costs of providing multiple variants of a phone model casing will always be higher for an OEM than a case provider.

One new big shift will be in the materials that cases are made out of. It’s likely that they will change to stronger substances such as lightweight metal alloys and other toughened materials, as opposed to the flimsy plastics and rubbers currently used. They may then form part of the core strength of the phone rather than just providing a cushion to its existing structure. Increasingly, full body cases with a screen cover increase the protection offered, and in some cases OEMs have embraced this with devices that can detect if the screen cover is closed, deactivating the screen or switching to a less battery intensive mode (e.g. Later models of the Samsung S series and Apple’s iPads).

Batteries, wireless charging, and many other new technologies may also require more specific case designs, as will changes to camera technologies and the increasing array of sensors that also need protecting. On this note, there is the additional trend towards mobile devices becoming a more significant part of consumers’ lives, where phones are becoming user’s passport, keys, wallet, ID, and travel card – to name but a few. It is therefore becoming increasingly important that cases can provide protection for this array of features.

Personalisation will always be a key factor of case choice, (Deloitte wrote a great piece on the user appeal). But rather than just surface level options like printed designs, it is possible that case designers will think more about form factor too. With these changes phone case costs will have to rise to allow for the more expensive materials, but in return the opportunities for profit will also increase.

In conclusion – how long these transitions will take to fully come into fruition is not certain, but a consumer’s wishes to express themselves through their accessories is one element that will remain constant throughout. In a market that stretches this widely, protecting such valuable property, it is hard to imagine it being one that will be disrupted beyond recognition any time soon.