New iPhone, new accessories: Charleston-area designers get to work
Millions eagerly followed Apple's product-update presentation this week, but few kept up with the same gusto — or vested interest — as Andrew Green and his team at Mount Pleasant-based Twelve South.
How to get a new iPhone
Three wireless carriers began taking pre-orders for iPhones at 3 a.m. today on their websites. The device will be available on their networks on Sept. 21.
AT&T: www.att.com/iPhone. It also is taking orders in its stores today.
Verizon Wireless: www.verizonwireless.com. Its stores will take orders starting at 8 a.m. today.
Sprint: 3 a.m. at www.sprint.com/iPhone.
The iPhone 5 starts at $199, a price that requires a two-year service contract. Last year buyers snapped up the entire launch-day stock of iPhone 4S devices in 24 hours.
“We were eating it up like soup,” Green said of the updates, live-blogged from San Francisco to the Internet. “We ordered in Chinese food and kept refreshing. We crowded in the conference room and watched two or three streams at once.
“Any time Apple releases new hardware, we're glued to our browsers and are very excited,” he said. “It's like a holiday here.”
For consumers, Wednesday's big launch meant a sleeker, faster iPhone or an iPod of a different color. But for local Apple accessory design shops, such as Twelve South, the updates mean rethinking their product lines, tweaking the old and imagining the new.
Although the contours and functionality of the iPhone 5 had been leaked for months, none of it was confirmed until Wednesday's keynote. For the designers, who learned about the updates at the same time as the general public, an exciting, potentially very profitable challenge awaits.
“It's go time,” Green said minutes after the keynote finished. “So now we huddle and see what works and doesn't work, and go from there.”
Distil Union, which operates out of an upstairs office on Lower King Street, wasted no time publishing an update for all its customers who had ordered its iPhone alarm clock via the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. It included a rendering of what the taller, thinner iPhone 5 would look like in the Snooze.
“So we had those form-factor guesses in mind ... when we designed it,” Lindsay Windham said of the new iPhone. “So at this point, it looks like it will work. It appears it will work.”
But, in a caveat echoed by her colleagues, “we have to get our hands on a physical iPhone 5.”
The buzz on the blogosphere also allowed Mount Pleasant-based iCache to start preliminary industrial design work on its product, the Geode mobile wallet that fits around the iPhone.
The advent of the iPhone 5 also led iCache to hold off on placing its Geode for the iPhone 4, launched this year via Kickstarter, in stores, CEO Jon Ramaci said.
Twelve South, which makes more than a dozen add-ons for Mac computers and Apple's mobile devices, also favors a slower approach, Green said. It will not take pre-orders for its new BookBook for iPhone.
“We actually have not done a lot of guessing on rumors,” Green said. “We will get the iPhone 5 and test it in our case before we release it. We will not be first to market; we will try to be best to market.”
Each local company makes different Apple accessories, but the new dimensions of the iPhone 5 affects all three.
“The width is the same, so the size, since it's longer and wider, it actually gives us the opportunity to spread the electronics in our case out more,” Ramaci said.
Windham said Distil Union's “worst-case scenario” for the iPhone 5 is that it would need to update the “fit insert” that allows the Snooze to accommodate an iPhone 4 in or out of a case.
Green noted that the price step-downs for iPhone 4S and 4 (now free with a service contract) are as significant as the new product.
“So honestly for us and for a lot of people, the story is not necessarily about the flagship iPhone 5 but about the $99 iPhone 4S,” he said.
The other big change to the iPhone that will affect the hardware designers is Apple's new connector, the so-called Lightning port, which replaces the 30-Pin plug.
“The fact that the 30-Pin stayed around as long as it did is amazing,” Green said, noting that it was “overdue” and also less relevant since so much data transfer is wireless now.
Windham said she knew the cord was going to change and that Distil Union will come out with a new version of its Weave, a connector cord with a red cloth cover. The Snooze will be available with either the old or new Weave, she said, answering a question posed on Distil Union's Kickstarter.
iCache also will have to adjust to the new connector, as that is how the Geode plugs into the iPhone 4 now. But Ramaci's main worry had been the possibility that the iPhone 5 would adopt near-field communication technology, which is how the Geode's major competitor, Google Wallet, operates.
Instead, the iPhone 5 features Passbook, the digital wallet Ramaci said Apple previewed at its most recent developer conference. He insisted it doesn't steal the Geode's market.
“The issue that Passbook still faces ... it's all 2D barcodes, which goes back to the same issue that we're solving,” he said, which is that most merchants don't have the equipment to read them. Ramaci said the Geode will translate the 2D barcodes into readable e-ink.
The other device update most likely to translate into a new product for the three companies was the revamped iPod touch, which has a new shape and boasts new features.
“When we took one of the prototypes of the Snooze into the Apple store ... one of the guys was like, 'Please make this for touch. My kid needs this,' ” Windham said.
After Wednesday's word from the West Coast, that Apple employee and father might get his wish.
“It's quite possible we'll be able to get the Snooze out to a younger audience,” Windham said.
Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the iPod touch. The Post and Courier regrets the error.