TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Accessory Makers Ready for iPhone Launch


Accessory Makers Ready for iPhone Launch


Rachel Konrad, AP Tech Writer (ap@telecom-digest.org)
Thu, 28 Jun 2007 01:02:01 -0500

By RACHEL KONRAD, AP Technology

Apple Inc.'s iPhone won't hit stores until Friday, but the heavily
hyped gadget already has unleashed a cottage industry of touch-screen
protectors, leather hip carriers and car adapters.

Even the most enthusiastic manufacturers said creating formfitting
iPhone accessories was an enormous challenge. A notoriously
tightlipped Apple kept many partners in the dark on precise
specifications, and some of the company's most trusted accessory
manufacturers still have not touched a genuine iPhone.

To compensate, many cribbed size and weight specifications from
Apple's Web site, then created models out of wood, cardboard or
plastic. They shipped models to Apple for advice on whether headset
and other outlets were placed correctly. They adjusted and resent
revised versions to Apple.

Many made educated guesses about curved moldings or the location of
the proximity sensor, which turns off the touch screen when near the
user's face. A one-millimeter error could result in headsets that come
unplugged or an uncomfortably hot screen.

"The engineering aspects were a huge challenge," said Marware
Inc. sales manager Sean Savitt.

Hollywood, Fla.-based Marware, which sells iPod accessories in Apple
stores and on Apple.com, assigned an industrial engineer to build a
molded-plastic custom prototype that weighed precisely as much as a
real iPhone. Marware sent the model to Apple for comments but
it's unclear how many of the roughly 300 Apple accessory makers had
similar access.

"There are a lot of manufacturers' cases that are going to have some
fundamental mistakes that will only be revealed after launch," Savitt
said. "There was a great deal of information to process and a great
deal of guesswork."

Cupertino-based Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

The company recently sent some partners a memo urging them not to talk
to journalists or rivals about marketing strategies -- including
whether their accessories would be on sale alongside iPhones. Partners
are not supposed to issue news releases or advertisements until after
the launch.

Digital Lifestyle Outfitters Inc. will have two cases available in
AT&T Inc. stores starting Friday. The phones are slated to go on sale
at 6 p.m. local time Friday at Apple and AT&T stores, and on Apple's
Web site.

Immediately after Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs announced the
iPhone in early January, DLO developed rough models in balsa wood
based on the general specifications he gave out. Engineers then built
plastic replicas with glass touch screens.

Even the slick photographs of the iPhone HipCase and Jam Jacket on
DLO's Web site use model iPhones, said Andrew Green, vice president of
marketing at Charleston, S.C.-based DLO.

"We didn't have a lot of special details initially. Apple shared stuff
with us, but not exclusively," Green said.

After the January unveiling, several partners said, Apple cut off
access to its designers Web site. Apple may have been making
last-minute tweaks -- a common practice in the electronics industry,
where products have short life cycles.

"At one point they weren't going to make the specs available to any
vendor until the launch. We all just gasped," said Carrie Scharbo,
co-founder and vice president of Cumming, Ga.-based Case-Mate Inc.

Case-Mate, which began manufacturing cases at its factory in China
after receiving final specs from AT&T May 22, plans to sell a
patent-pending, impact-resistant iPhone shell with an injection-molded
inner sheath.

"To build a sleek and slim design without all the specs is
challenging, but that's our schtick," Scharbo said. "The
nerve-wracking thing about this one was that everything was so
hush-hush. We felt fortunate that we could partner with AT&T."

EBay Inc. listed roughly 1,700 iPhone accessories Wednesday, from belt
clips to whimsical T-shirts proclaiming "I (heart) my (picture of
iPhone)," many of them from obscure makers.

The San Jose-based auction company is anticipating numerous auctions
of iPhones themselves. Instead of signing up for cellular service at
the time of purchase, iPhone buyers sign up through Apple's iTunes
online store, making the phones easier to give as gifts or resell.

About 2,000 eBay security representatives are scheduled to be on the
lookout this weekend for iPhone scams. But Cat Schwartz, the eBay
executive in charge of electronic gadgets, acknowledged that she can't
do much about ill-fitting accessories.

"It's premature for people to be putting out accessories," Schwartz
said. "Until the unit comes out, I wouldn't advise people to buy a
bunch of accessories."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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