- Case designers are often as in the dark as the customers.
- WaterField Designs does everything locally in San Francisco.
- Crowdsourcing can help with design, and gathering intel.
Whenever Apple launches a new product, it takes about five minutes for cases to appear, no matter how absurd. A sleeve for the Apple Pencil? Yes. A case for the Apple Watch, to cover the watch while you’re wearing it? Sure.
Sometimes, Apple’s own case design is so bad that someone has to come along and show them how it’s done. But however absurd or smart the case, it’s a dash to get it designed and in stores, because usually the case makers are just as in the dark about Apple’s plans as we are.
“Yes, we are always scrambling to be the ‘first’ to get Apple products, just like everyone else,” Gary Waterfield, owner of San Francisco-based case and bag company WaterField Designs, told Lifewire via email. “Especially because we need to make sure our product fits just right—that has always been an important part of our brand.”
Making a Case
The Apple case market is huge. Whenever a new iPhone launches, people want a new case, and if a case maker can have a product ready on day one, then it can clean up. The problem is that Apple keeps a tight lid on its designs, so most case makers get their first glimpse of the product at the same time as everyone else.
“We do follow all the Apple rumors,” says Waterfield, “and we start sketching before the details are even announced. That saves some time.”
Sometimes, manufacturers like Logitech and Belkin get early access to designs when Apple partners with them to create launch-day accessories, but that’s the exception. This has led to allegations that case makers pay insiders to leak upcoming designs. But there’s another way, says Waterfield.
“Because Apple is secretive about the details about their upcoming products, big brands that work with overseas factories can’t respond as quickly as we can,” he says.
Small local shops like WaterField don’t have to wait for shipments from overseas, either. This might be the finished product from a factory in China, or just materials.
“Our sewing workshop is right here in the same San Francisco building as our design, customer service, and fulfillment teams, so we can go from design to prototype, testing, and production much more quickly,” Waterfield says.
Another important part of WaterField’s strategy is the customer, and not just because they buy the cases. The company has gathered customer feedback since the beginning, and incorporated it into designs. This almost collaborative approach has led to loyal customers who offer suggestions, and even help gather intel on upcoming Apple products.
“Many of them are long-time Apple fans,” says Waterfield, “so as we develop products, we gather their input along the way—whether through our more formal community-design collaboration process, quick surveys, or via the emails they automatically send us as soon as a new Apple product is on the rumor mill.”
Weird and Wonderful
In the end, though, it’s about the product, and WaterField gear is great. The new Shield Case for Apple’s AirPods Max, for example, is a $99 lined and padded leather sleeve with magnets that will tell the AirPods to go into deep sleep, but some of WaterField’s cases are much fancier. For instance, the Mac Pro Gear Saddle is a full-grain cowhide saddle that you sling over your Mac Pro to add handy pockets on the side (unfortunately the top has no padding, so you can’t sit on it).
Or how about the leather case for your Apple Pencil or Surface Pen?
We’re teasing here, but people really do love cases. And why not? If you’ve spent serious money on a piece of technology, a case or bag is not only a way to protect it, but to add some individuality.