Apple’s new Smart Cover for the iPad 2 is one of the most interesting protective cases yet, not because of the clever magnet design, but rather the aggressive business strategy behind it.
The iPad 2 is 33 percent thinner than the original iPad; a significant design difference. That means first-generation iPad cases won’t fit on the new iPad. And when the iPad 2 ships March 11, Apple, the only company that’s had direct access to the iPad 2, will be the only vendor selling a case made to fit the product just right.
That gives Apple a few weeks to rake in juicy profits with the $40-$70 Smart Cover before third-party case manufacturers whip up other variations of protective accessories for the iPad 2. Keep in mind the most sales for a product typically come on launch day, plus Apple retail stores carefully select which third-party cases they display on shelves. With the Smart Cover, Apple can potentially create a temporary pseudo-monopoly on protective cases for the iPad 2, bringing in millions of dollars in profits to pad hardware sales.
This isn’t the first time Apple has enjoyed a head start on accessories. Apple shipped its own “Bumper” cases for the iPhone 4 (which probably didn’t work out so well because of Antennagate and the free case program), and Apple also sold cases for the original iPad when it launched.
Still, the Smart Cover is Apple’s hardest push in the accessories game yet. The marketing behind it is intense. Apple devoted an entire webpage and video just for the Smart Cover, embellished with some truly over-the-top ad copy: “A magnetic attraction.” “An on-again, off-again relationship.” “A cover that’s smart. And bright.” “That’s not just smart. It’s genius.”
To be fair, it’s a well-designed cover, and the ability to prop up the iPad at an angle makes it easier to type on a touchscreen. But it’s a plastic cover with a magnet on it, people.
Steve Jobs even noted that the case is made of polyurethane, “which is used to make spacesuits.” Polyurethane is also used to make some condoms, baby toys, carpet underlayment and mattress filling, facts which Jobs neglected to mention.
Jokes aside, Apple’s accessory strategy might point to a change in its hardware evolution.
In the past, Apple only gave major makeovers to Macintosh computers every three or four years; the smaller upgrades in between would be incremental improvements in chip speeds and other small features. The iPhone also didn’t get a hardware revamp until the iPhone 4.
So it’s peculiar that the iPad 2’s design is so different, just one year after the first iPad. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal claims the iPhone 5 will have a “different form factor” than the iPhone 4. Maybe we’ll see more rapid hardware design changes occurring in Apple’s mobile products, partly motivated by Apple’s desire to compete in the accessories game.
That’s wishful thinking, as it would make each Apple announcement a bit more exciting, so long as you’re not an avid upgrader who always buys a case.