iPhone 6 Cases: The Best-Guess Editions

OtterBox iPhone 6 cases
OtterBox iPhone 6 cases

(Rob Pegoraro/Yahoo Tech)

Ordering a new iPhone? Chances are that you’ll also look for a case for it. But who, other than Apple, will have cases ready to sell that actually fit?

Before an accessories manufacturer can make a case for a new iPhone, it needs to know the shape and size of that device, down to the radius in millimeters of each precision-chamfered edge. But here’s the thing: Those cases you see on sale the moment a new iPhone launches? Their dimensions are based on guesses and rumor.

You might think that a big case manufacturer could email a request to Apple for the necessary dimensional details and promise to keep them confidential, but when it comes to upcoming products, Apple treats accessory manufacturers the way it treats everybody else outside the companies actually building the new iPhones: on a no-need-to-know basis.

And if you’re in the business, phone dimensions are something you definitely do need to know: The smartphone accessory market was worth $20 billion in 2012 and is projected to grow to $38 billion in 2017, according to ABI Research. And market researcher NPD group says case usage among iPhone owners is 87 percent.

(Samsung, for its part, will share this info with accessory vendors who sign a strict nondisclosure agreement.)

It’s worth a guess
And yet as I saw at the U.S. wireless industry’s Super Mobility Week convention in Las Vegas earlier this week, case builders expect to have designs for the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in stores when those devices land in stores a week from today.

Many models are already available for order online. Our editor ordered his from Monoprice:

Monoprice screenshot featuring iPhone 6 case
Monoprice screenshot featuring iPhone 6 case

At the Mobility Week convention, OtterBox, for example, had a lineup of colorful iPhone 6 cases in various floral-print themes available for inspection. And yet nobody at the company has obtained an iPhone 6 yet, and they won’t until they stand in line at a store with everybody else next Friday.

But the company had enough sources in and around Apple’s mammoth Chinese supply chain to give it a high degree of confidence in what might otherwise seem to be a faith-based design process.

Publicist Kristen Tatti said this effort started not long after the iPhone 5c and 5s shipped. “We do take on quite a bit of business risk,” she said, but the company has little choice: “People want to buy their accessories when they buy their device.”

(OtterBox’s intelligence for the iPhone 6 Plus was apparently not as good, as its website says those cases are “coming soon.”)

Another case vendor, Ventev, began work on iPhone 6 cases several months ago, and the evening after the iPhone launched, its only worry was that it had left a little too much room around the headphone-jack opening. It, too, will get to find out if it got the dimensions right when some of its employees queue up to buy the iPhone 6 on Friday.

Loose lips make profits
An executive at another accessories supplier, who didn’t want himself or his company named, said he’d even gotten offers from Chinese case manufacturers offering money-back guarantees on the fit of their products.

This U.S. firm also makes battery packs, and those can’t be done in advance — anything that touches a new iPhone’s Lightning jack requires specifications direct from Apple, the executive said. But he added that there are just too many leaks coming out of Foxconn and other contract manufacturers to keep the contours of a new iPhone secret for long.

Some two to three months ago, the company had even gotten 3D-printable files of the iPhone 6; as proof, he handed a plastic mock-up to me that had come out of a 3D printer’s nozzle the day before.

While you may be reading iPhone rumors sourced from case manufacturers for entertainment, for the people in the accessories business, these rumors mean money.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.