During the unveiling of the brand new iPhone 15 by Apple CEO Tim Cook, accessory sellers saw a golden opportunity to sell cases. Despite the slowdown in the mobile phone market, case manufacturers are experiencing robust growth, with double-digit sales increases each year. However, Apple is well-known for keeping their product designs under wraps until the launch date, which poses a challenge for the case makers. So, they carefully scrutinized leaks from Apple’s factories in China to design and make cases in time for the launch date.
The company founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1976 reached a valuation of nearly $3 trillion this year. While it has agreements with several companies to make official Apple accessories, the vast majority of manufacturers must rely on leaked information to estimate the size and shape of new devices. Jorge González, director of Apokin, a Spanish case distributor throughout southern Europe, said, “I don’t know how this information reaches the manufacturers.” But he knows that three months before a new product launch, the cases are always ready to ship. Screen protectors always come later, says González, because they must fit much more precisely. “Many factories will wait to make them once the device has been released.”
According to Soledad Villalobos, CEO of Casa de las Carcasas, a major mobile phone case retailer in Spain, the company’s sales team visits trade shows in China to gather information leaked from Apple factories. “Well, if you go to a trade show and they tell you one thing, then you go to another one and they say the same thing, you can pretty much conclude that the rumors are true. Also, the factories we work with are located very close to Apple’s, which makes it easier to leak information.”
According to an Apple report, their supply chain involves over three million people across thousands of companies in 50+ countries. Keeping trade secrets has become more challenging. In 2017, digital news outlet The Outline reported instances where factory workers were offered bribes of up to a year’s salary to steal Apple products.
No radical design changes
In his mobile phone store in the center of Madrid, Jesús Salazar can now relax. The arrival of 400 cases from China means he has enough supply for the four new iPhone models. His customers can choose between a variety of transparent or colored silicone cases. Salazar manages three stores in Madrid that specialize in mobile repairs and accessory sales. iPhone cases make up 60% of his sales, so it’s crucial to have several choices available when new models hit the market. The business of cell phone accessories, particularly protective cases, is a safe bet in Spain. According to the country’s National Markets and Competition Commission, there were an estimated 56 million active mobile telephone lines in 2022. In 2023, worldwide revenue in the mobile phone accessories market was a staggering $295 billion worldwide, and is expected to grow to $413 billion by 2030.
Some retailers are hesitant to order large quantities of cases that may not match the devices. Marta Nieto, who owns Karkasa, a custom phone case shop in A Coruña (northwest Spain), requested evaluation samples of the new iPhone 15 cases from her local supplier. “We used to order big batches in advance [of a phone launch] and ran into issues like cases not aligning with the microphone or camera, or the case didn’t fit snugly. So we ended up returning all of them.”
While Apple may not make radical design changes anymore, it’s still crucial for Nieto to verify the new phone materials and colors — especially the colors. “Cases are for protection, but they also make a fashion statement. So, I have to see what colors are trending and how they combine with the new models.”
The device launch and confirmation of dimensions don’t mark the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning. When new models are launched, be it for iPhone or other brands, it kickstarts the production of various accessories to protect and personalize the devices. “Customers who come in for a case end up grabbing a screen protector, a hydrogel protector for the back, a camera lens pad, and even a colored lanyard,” said Villalobos, who proudly shared that Casa de las Carcasas will open new stores in Portugal, Italy and France this year.
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