Modding the 3G iPhone – Cracking the Case

May 12, 2008

in iphone, Mobility, Scenarios & Futures, Strategic Foresight

Many have been predicting for weeks iPhone Black as the 3G version. The latest flurry over the weekend when apparently AT&T listed it on their website. Oops! The problem with all these predictions is there is no rationale other than it is cool. Who’s asking why? Why aren’t they? I believe the mobile handset market is as blind to the iPhone as the VoIP market was to Skype when it launched. They now know it is cool but they still don’t have real strategies for it. More importantly, Apple’s strategy won’t follow the expected course.

  • Why go from aluminum to black plastic?
  • Why black and not any color? Etc.
  • What’s the real story here?

I think it is simple and the answer is in India and Asia where thriving repair markets exist, along with fakes, knockoffs and copies. In any of these markets there’s the knowledge and the desire to open cases etc. If you sell millions it is even more important to make them simple to repair or fix.

  • How long to fix or repair an iPhone screen?
  • How long to replace a back plate? Etc?
  • What are cost effective ways to get great upgrades?
  • How do I make my iPhone really different? Is another Encase enough?

Sending phones back in for repair is simply too expensive and time consuming. While all the focus is on Edge to 3G versions the part that is missing is connecting the dots between “plastic” and Vodaphone launching in 10 markets. When Apple was ostensibly selling generation one all in the US it mattered not a jot that you could send it in for repair. There’s also still little reason to make it easy to open. Any competent Manish Market repairer can do it in seconds.

Plastic is the signal that Apple is going after it’s own self-organizing repair market. It wants real and fake cases for sale. Modding your iPhone is going to migrate to Asia and India where it’s cheap to make and install these parts. On the one hand Apple will be scared to death, modified cases can put video cameras on the front, and bigger speakers in the back etc. However there is nothing to stop this…. other than a warranty. Yet these repair jocks will guarantee their work, and be there for software upgrades and more. If I buy a Nokia in India I don’t return it to the Nokia store for repair. I simple go to one of these guys and get it done on the spot. I can’t see why Apple with fewer stores in these markets will be different. In fact helping them get some qualifications and putting iPhone approved on some of these aftermarket items will make more money for everyone.

There’s also one big difference. The iPhone modding market focuses on one handset; the iPhone. Apple is NOT going after a Nokia n-Series strategy. If the iPhone is to be more fashionable it will be accessorized rather than different versions. While one can expect an iPhone nano and iPhoneGiga (large touch screen page size) they make more sense than worrying about video’s, special cameras, bigger speakers etc. They will sell more when the iPhone has USB equivalents inside. Then it is more of a platform. The big deal here is there will be more iPhones sold than any single (except the low end phones) model. Thus mod’s in this form are more attractive and likely to emerge.  There’s a whole hardware market for the iPhone coming!

You want to see beautiful personalized iPhones? Take a look at this customizer. Then think rupees rather than dollars. Not quite but plausible. Color cases will be everywhere. If you want steel etc will be an option too.

It’s more important to consider this strategy if you are going to sell 100 million phones rather than 10 million. It’s also important if your volume is ratcheting up at a pace and in areas where you don’t have a support base and the carriers aren’t really your friend. It’s also a strategy that fits between the mobile market and the PC market. The iPhone is perhaps the best bridge.

I better provide another reason. Within the year more iPhones will be sold outside the US than in it. I don’t know what the iPod market has done relative to the US; the iPhone market will do much better. The product is simply more compelling.

Research that could be interesting?

  • Give me 50 iPhone 8 top repairers and some design / plastics people…. It’s a certain market opportunity. I can think of 4 or 5 very likely super mods that would fly very quickly. Some that are cheap and other that go much further.
  • Evaluate the “repair market” and “iPhone Accessories” opportunities in emerging markets. The assumption that iPhone accessories are “wrapper” and “dock” related is dead.
  • iTunes store impact in the Internat Cafe and or with the “repair dude”. Many users won’t have the access we have to iTunes stores. Expect the synch libraries to be managed and charged for… Eg I will load x thousand songs, these videos etc onto it. Is there any limit to the number of iPhones that can be registered to one PC?

Now wouldn’t it be fun to mockup this scenario and act it out today? What would your repair outlook look like, what would hang on the shelves? What would the most common mods be? What price points? I see a market for iPhone accessories where the right kit could be 50% of the original cost. While I’ve been working the software / SDK scenario until now I’ve really neglected considering the hardware scenario. It could be rather interesting and quickly expand Apple’s range of opportunities.

  • Stuart, its all going to happen when the iPhone is launched in Asia – you’ve seen firsthand how the accessory / repair / loading of software like music works in our “we-can-fix-anything” markets! Many companies turn a snubby proud nose saying “we don’t want to play” there – those that understand it well and learn that they just are – are the ones with the bigger edge. More importantly, as a customer and user, i tend to trust my friendly computer guy or my local mobile repairer more than the ‘company’ to find solutions to my problems!!!

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  • Deon

    The reason for the plastic (well one reason) is that it works better.
    In terms of the new iPhone the plastic case makes the signal quality of the antennas and bluetooth and wireless much better than if it had a steel or aluminum back cover.

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