Apple’s use of aluminum enclosures on its products has been a hallmark of its industrial design. When others were building notebooks out of plastic, Apple began using a natural colored aluminum. It provided a more substantial and better looking design that allowed Apple to charge a premium and create a unique design language that’s lasted for nearly a decade. This use of aluminum has been carried over to iPhones, iPads and iPods.
With Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) about to announce a new line of iPhones on Sept. 10, it will be interesting to see whether that language continues. I expect that we will see some of Apple’s first use of plastic enclosures in a new line of iPhones that offer lower-cost products and a move to colors.
Aluminum has also become the material of choice for a variety of companies building accessories that work alongside Macs and iOS products. I’ve literally been bombarded in recent months with products from these companies.
Shelf and holder
One of the first companies to create aluminum accessory products was Twelve South with a small aluminum shelf, the BackPack, that fits onto the back of an Apple monitor, and is designed to hold a backup drive or store your notebook computer. It’s totally unessential, and somewhat expensive at $40, but it does let you park your back-up drive out of sight.
One of my favorite products from the same company is its BookArc for the MacBook Air notebook. It’s an arc of thick aluminum with a slot to hold the notebook vertically for storage at your bedside or on your desk. Twelve South has extended this line to accommodate other Macbooks and iPads. $40 (twelvesouth.com).
Another aluminum accessory is the iSlider, a sturdy and attractive iPad stand from Rain Design. It’s a cleverly designed aluminum folding device that elevates your iPad, positioning it over a range of angles, from 15 to 75 degrees, allowing you to type or use it as a reading stand. Its sliding design makes it small enough to carry with you. It also works with other iOS devices. $50 (raindesigninc.com).
Stands for headphones, charging
Just-Mobile is a third company that creates attractive, well-designed products, also mostly made of aluminum. If you listen to headphones while at your desk, the HeadStand at $50 is a convenient place to store them when not being used. The Just-Mobile AluCup is a circular aluminum cup stand for your iPhone that holds it upright while charging ($30). And the company’s new Gum++ is a high capacity 6000mAh backup battery for smartphones, tablets and USB-powered devices. It is one the most attractive looking backup batteries, with sufficient capacity to nearly recharge a depleted iPad or an iPhone twice. This powerful battery is clad in a hard-aluminum ribbed shell. $90 (just-mobile.com).
I’ve been trying a new accessory for the large iPad: the Justin Case IT-J4231 Ultra-Slim Power Case. It's a gray frame that you slip your iPad into, and has a fold-over cover that contains an 11,600mAh rechargeable battery, almost twice the size of the battery in the iPad. It’s capable of recharging the iPad about 1.5 times. A USB out connector also lets you use the battery to charge almost any other device, such as an iPhone. (To calculate how many charges you get, divide the 11,600 by the battery capacity in the device you are charging, and multiply by 3/4 to account for charging inefficiencies.)
It has a built-in easel to prop up the screen at 45 degrees. You need to route a cable between the battery in the cover and the connector on the iPad to charge it, making it a little unwieldy to charge while it’s being used. The battery is rated at just one amp for charging, unlike the iPad, which will charge twice as fast, so give it about 14 hours to go from empty to full. A battery gauge provides an indication of its charge state.
The case is made of “faux leather,” as the company describes it, genuine vinyl, as I would call it. It’s utilitarian in looks rather than being stylish or particularly attractive, but it gets the job done at an attractive price, not much more than what you pay for a plain cover. However, it adds more than a pound, making the iPad considerably heavier to carry. A black iPhone lookalike charger is provided. $70 (ithomeproducts.com).
If there’s one category of companies routing for Apple’s success with its new offerings this fall, it’s the companies above, whose livelihoods depend on creating products, both essential and non-essential, for these popular Apple products. It’s an industry that is primarily focused on Apple, with few products provided for other companies. Why is that? I think because Apple users love to pamper and protect their products, and the volume of products of any one Apple model is so high.