A New Battery Case from Apple

As popular as the iPhone 6 is, it has one huge weakness — one of the shortest battery lives of any smartphone. That’s because Apple has prioritized thinness over runtime. As an iPhone 6 user, it’s hard to get through the day without needing to charge my phone. Often, the battery is dead by 2 or 3 pm.

Now, Apple has introduced its own snap-on battery case, much like the cases from Mophie and many others that have been available for years. Battery cases or power cases, as they are often called, contain a second battery that can double the run time.

The Apple version works on the 6 and 6S and has some unique features but battery life is not one of them. It extends the normal battery life by about 80%. Apple’s case is a compromise between providing sufficient added power, while not making it as bulky and heavy as other cases.

Many of the reviews appearing from the Wall St. Journal, The Verge, and Engadget, assess the Apple case as simply an over-priced version of a Mophie case with a smaller battery. But, after using the product for a few days, most of the reviews completely miss the point. These reviews take a very simplistic approach: How does the product compare with others based on what the reviewers deem to be important, namely battery size versus cost. In my opinion, this is not what should be important.

If I were Apple’s marketing chief, my design brief to the engineers would be to come up with a solution that is able to get a heavy iPhone 6/6S user through the day without running out of power. You want to insure a user away from home or the office need not search for a plug until he is home in the evening. At the same time, I’d ask for a solution that minimizes the case’s bulk and weight and makes it as convenient as possible to use. In other words, find the right balance.

In my use of the product, Apple has managed to “thread the needle” and come up with an optimum solution. The added battery capacity solved my problem of running out of power in the middle of the afternoon and took me to late in the evening instead of only mid-afternoon. A larger battery that lasted to midnight or 3 am would not provide me any added benefit.

By using a smaller battery, Apple eliminated the huge appendage of other cases that often doubled the phone’s thickness and made it hard to hold and slip in a pocket. The Apple case maintains the thickness of the phone in a moderately sized case around its perimeter and adds thickness to the middle of the back only. That makes the phone as easy to hold and grasp as an iPhone 6 with just with an ordinary case on it.

The Apple case is also much simpler to use than other battery cases. It uses a lightning connector instead of a USB connector, allowing you to use one cable to charge the combination or either alone.

There is no need to manage or worry about which battery to use. Like other cases, the connector on the case charges both the phone’s battery and its own simultaneously. In use, the case’s battery discharges first, eliminating the need for a user-selectable switch. Battery life of both is precisely displayed on the display, eliminating the need for LEDs used by other makers.

Unlike the competitors’ case made of hard plastic, the Apple case is made of silicone rubber that provides a firm grip and is easy to put on and off. It provides a raised ridge around the screen that is better able to absorb a drop.

So no, the Apple case does not have the biggest battery, but it does offer the maximum utility for what I would define a battery case should be: Enough power to get a heavy user through the day and evening, in an easy to hold package that makes it much more likely you’ll keep the case on the phone all of the time.

Apple’s new SmartCase comes in gray or white and costs $100.

Published by

Phil Baker

Phil Baker is a product development expert, author, and journalist covering consumer technology. He is the co-author with Neil Young of the forthcoming book, “To Feel the Music,” and the author of “From Concept to Consumer.” He’s a former columnist for the San Diego Transcript, and founder of Techsperts, Inc. You can follow him at www.bakerontech.com.

48 thoughts on “A New Battery Case from Apple”

  1. What’s weird is the contradiction between making the phone thin for cuteness reasons (at the cost of handling and a workable battery), and then making the ugliest case ever (whether in-hand or in-pocket) so that the phone actually starts to work as a phone.

    What I’m really wondering is how Apple came up with that thinness trade-off. Is it purely for aesthetics reasons ? Do they have market research that tells them their customers are concerned about how their phone looks, not works, not handles ? Is it to save on battery costs *and* get an almost required $100 of customers ?

    Apple are not the only ones with the issue, but they’re both the worst and the biggest offender.

    1. The thinness tradeoff most likely was driven by their passion for ID winning over usability. Apple’s design of nearly every product for years has been about thinness, from the Air to the iPads, to the phones. Each new generation is thinner than the last. Apparently, there was no one strong enough to push back. I bet at least 80% of iPhone 6 users would have preferred more battery life in exchange for a phone that’s 1 or 2 mm thicker.

      1. Thanks for the article Phil. The thing is there is no push back. That is why Apple continues to do what they like, whilst charging huge margins. They know Apple fans will except it.Your article basically defends Apple.Why would they change ? If the iphone was well designed and functional, this ugly case would not be required. They bagged Samsung for producing plastic phones and then come up with this. Embarrassing.

        1. I’ve been complaining for years about their short battery life, as had other journalists. As to no pushback, I was referring to forces within Apple. ID has defined Apple and done some amazing products, but sometimes there needs to be someone there to say you’ve gone too far.

          1. It seems such a shame to cover a beautiful device with a hideous cover. Words are one thing, but real push back is buying a competitors product. For millions, no matter what, that will never happen. The obsession with thin by companies isn’t always a better experience for their customers.

          2. “obsession with thin … isn’t always a better experience for their customers”

            Depends on how you define “better experience”. Apparently battery life for most is sufficient.


          3. What do you mean by “sufficient” ? Sufficient to make the sale (or sufficiently unpublicized to not scupper it)? sufficient to last a day ? Sufficient to be happy about it ? Sufficient to make do with it ? Sufficient to hate it but not outweigh the phone’s strong points ?

        1. I think one of the issues is that battery life is abstract until you actually own the phone. In the shop, or with friends, I can see or touch the phone’s looks, materials, reactivity, screen, even camera, etc… directly, but I’ll never get to experience the battery until I’ve bought it.

        2. I think one of the issues is that battery life is abstract until you actually own the phone. In the shop, or with friends, I can see or touch the phone’s looks, materials, reactivity, screen, even camera, etc… directly, but I’ll never get to experience the battery until I’ve bought it.

          Edit: on the hunt for non-techie polls. None yet but…

          best I could do: the 3rd chart on that page shows satisfaction with battery life on aggregate significantly lower than satisfaction with anything else about smartphones. Doesn’t say if it’s important, just says it’s less satisfactory than the rest.

          1. Thanks for searching. What I’ve seen also suggests that battery life is the main complaint, and of course there are Android phones which prominently feature very long battery life, probably in response to this. I also know that quite a few people carry extra battery packs in case their phones run out of battery.

            The thing is, do we really think that Jony Ive has so much power over design? Can he really overrule Phil Schiller if Phil brings in some negative customer satisfaction data? Is Mr. “customer sat.” Tim Cook so weak in boardroom discussions so as to let Jony Ive make all the product design decisions, even if they lead to dis-satisfaction?

            I don’t mind if enthusiasts like myself or presumably the majority of my fellow commenters say things like this. However, I hold “analysts” to a higher standard. If an “analyst” is going to effectively call Apple’s executive team “over passionate over industrial design” and “ignorant of 80% of customer needs”, then he better have something better than anecdotes from his friends. He better have objective data to back his claim. And no, the opinions of fellow journalists doesn’t count as data.

            Even if we don’t have the data, we should presume that Apple does. I mean, if you were sitting in a product meeting at Apple HQ, wouldn’t that be the first thing that you would ask? Wouldn’t that be the first thing that Phil’s crack product marketing team should investigate?

            It’s OK to have different opinions than Apple, but you should at least recognise that arguably the best marketing team in the world is taking a good look at this. Unless there is some serious Group Think happening, there probably has been a great deal of intense discussion. You have to try to imagine what that might have been like. Of course, if you want, you could analyse Apple’s actions to search for traces of Group Think, but that is a different matter.

            I even tried to ask the author as nicely as I could.

          2. There might also be a “get the sale” vs “customer satisfaction” issue. The iPhone’s thinness definitely has a wow factor. How much should Apple care that battery life is going to be disappointing. Say 10% more will buy the iPhone for its looks, then 40% will have issues with the battery life, but only 10% of those will switch away from iPhone next time. 10% – (40% x 10%) = 6% sales gain.

            I’m sure that’s part of the decision (I’m also sure my numbers are flaky but not utterly mad). Also, Apple now has answer to the issue: get a Plus, which most heavy users probably do anyway.

          3. Exactly!!

            I’m not sure if your calculation is even remotely accurate, but the fact that you can calculate this kind of stuff is key. If you are going to make a tradeoff that will potentially earn or cost tens of billions of dollars, anybody will do that calculation. Also, despite what Tim Cook says, it is naive to assume that customer satisfaction is the sole metric. It has to be balanced with sales, switcher ratios, wow/lust factor, marketability and a lot more. As you say, it is totally possible that they are intentionally sacrificing customer satisfaction to an extent.

            I am absolutely certain that someone in Cupertino has a similar numeric model in Excel, and is putting in various scenarios and informing Cook, Schiller and Ive. I repeat: Apple has a crack marketing team that is possibly the best in the world, far better than any other tech company.

            Of course, I personally would hope that Apple would be more considerate of heavy users, and I can easily see myself buying one of those Camel Hump battery cases. I like the hump on living camels by the way. I think it’s a pretty elegant solution to a difficult technical problem.

          4. As I mentioned before, it’s important to keep in mind that Apple needs to keep pushing on miniaturization, making things smaller, thinner, since it is obvious this is a key factor in the future of computing. As you point out, it’s a balance of a lot of factors, and Apple seems to have a goal of a day of use for most users (I think we can assume they test this thoroughly). Of course that means some users won’t get through a day, hence the market for battery packs.

          5. Miniaturization is being worked on by everybody, not just Apple, but yes, it’s essential. The late, great, Richard Feynman famously said that “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”.


            There’s two ways of treating miniaturization. The first, as Apple tends to do, is to make devices smaller. The second is to fit more functionality in a fixed space. Both are important, I tend to favor the latter, when something has become small enough. Since humans don’t miniaturize, smaller devices don’t scale well with decreasing size in regards to usability.

            Now where’s that half inch thick phone I can use to run NORAD! 🙂

          6. Ironically (and at the risk of a stupidly protracted discussion) that is really the point. What are people willing to sacrifice at the alter of longer battery life? In my own experience there are four things that suck battery—talk time, screen brightness, GPS, and Facebook. Two of those things can be directly address by the user on the smartphone—turn the brightness down and stop using Facebook on the device.

            The other two can be addressed by switching the functions to other devices—get a flip/feature phone for phone calls (which is apparently the hipster thing to do these days) and a separate GPS.

            I can almost guarantee at least two day battery life, if not more, if you do at least those four things.

            But no one is willing to sacrifice. We want all those things and more in our smartphones. And the tech companies want to give it to us. So, failing huge leaps in battery technology, this will always be a compromise situation.

            And even then, I am sure we will find new ways of draining battery life. Kind of like if we ran 20 year old software on our computers today I think we would be amazed at how much faster they are compared to their contemporary counterparts. Or like the principle of the amount time it takes to do something expands to fill (or exceed) the amount of time we have to do it.


          7. I didn’t say Apple was the only one working on miniaturization. Man, you have issues.

            Also, there’s no such thing as small enough. The way you get a half inch thick phone running NORAD is by making things smaller and smaller and smaller.

          8. It’s not as if you said ‘the industry needs to keep pushing on miniaturization’, it’s you that focused on Apple.

            I already covered the NORAD example by saying the same thing you just said.

            Devices can be too small. You missed the point.

          9. I said Apple because the discussion is about why Apple keeps going thinner. But then your head exploded at the possibility that someone might take that to mean only Apple is working on miniaturization. As I said, you’ve got issues.

            And no, devices cannot be too small. You’re not thinking long term enough.

          10. “do we really think that Jony Ive has so much power over design”

            Or that it is Jony who wants to sacrifice battery over physicality.


          1. Thanks.

            If I’m not mistaken, I think we are starting to see a consistent pattern that suggests that 30-40% of customers complain about battery life, whereas the remaining 60-70% seem to be OK with it.

            On the other hand, we don’t have data specifically addressing satisfaction/dissatisfaction with thickness, or mobility in general (whether it fits into your pocket). It might be a part of “physical design”, but it might be interesting if it was a separate question.

            It might also be interesting to see who buys the battery cases. With a distinctive hump, it should be easy to recognise them in the wild.

      2. Agreed with Naofumi, you are incorrectly applying your experiences to the population as a whole.

        “everybody I know” and “everybody I’ve seen on the internet” thinking
        it’s not enough battery means nothing. First group is self-selected to
        be full of nerds who use their phones constantly. The second group will
        be top heavy with nerds who have reason to complain, because if they
        were happy with the battery life they wouldn’t be saying anything.

        Apple’s phones have had roughly the same battery life specs for several generations now. I think it was Marco Arment who suggested that this meant Apple thought the battery life of the phone was fine as it is. Marco went on to complain bitterly, as do you, that they are wrong.

        However, it’s not like Apple picked their target battery life spec out of the air. They do market research on their customers, and obviously they consult with Iphone users inside apple. The current battery life of the phone was chosen based on user data, and I think the fact that it’s what it is shows that a plurality of their customers are content with their current phone battery life.

        Or at least, their customers were happy as of however many years ago the design for the Iphone 6 was finalized. Phone usage patterns are constantly changing, but it takes at least 2, and probably more like 3 years to respond to changes in usage patterns with changes in hardware. As people use their phones more, the number of people who need better battery stats from their phones will grow.

        The existence of this new battery case strikes me as a response by Apple to changing trends in their user data with regard to the adequacy of battery life. Which suggests that the Iphone 7 or iphone 8 (next year or 3 years from now) will suddenly provide significantly improved battery stats compared to the 6 or 6s.

        The same could be said of the default 16gb storage on the iphone and Ipad. Pundits and tech bloggers and nerds are constantly complaining that it’s just plain not enough storage. Meanwhile, scads of ordinary people, like me, are quietly finding that it’s more then ample for their needs.

      3. And yet all those thinner IDs have better battery life than any of their clunkier predecessors, including iPhone 6. So I am not seeing how thinner is in conflict with usability.

        I’ve rarely needed extra battery life unless I am doing extensive traveling. But like the people I know who do use their phones enough to need extra battery life, the need is more than an extra mm or two will provide.

        As someone who has travelled with inordinate amounts of tech for work, I find thinner and lighter to be of great benefit.


          1. I don’t know battery technology to say we can assume any such thing.

            But the current size already solves the “all-day” issue for most people.


  2. The case certainly is odd looking. Very functional in some ways, and not in others. And there doesn’t seem to be a need for it, Mophie has this issue solved already. Apparently Mophie has a large patent portfolio when it comes to battery cases, this may be what Apple had to design to avoid infringement. Perhaps Apple thinks their case is more functional in important ways. As for why Apple keeps pushing on thin devices, it is obvious that miniaturization is a key aspect of the future of computing. Yes we need some balance, and Apple doesn’t always get it perfectly right, but there is much more than a ‘cool factor’ going on re: thin devices.

    1. Very interesting. As far as I know, I don’t think anybody has written an article after actually using one, so I’ll have to reserve judgement. It is possible that Apple has prioritised how it feels in your hands and your pocket, instead of fixating on a flush surface.

      I just took a look at the Mophie, and it does look pretty large, doubling the thickness compared to a naked iPhone 6.

      I do think it will sell remarkably well, at least where I live where people spend a lot of their long train commutes staring at their phones.

      1. I was reading a bit more as well. The hump solves a number of technical issues in better ways than full back battery packs. Still, it’s not the sleek look that I prefer, but it could be that in actual use you don’t even notice. Contrary to what many pundits like to believe, Apple products are purchased because they are useful. Do I like the objects I use to look good and be well-designed? Of course, but if they don’t work well I won’t buy a second time. I’ve never found battery life on any iOS device to be an issue, but it is obvious a heavy user would. My wife for example, uses her iPhone as a mobile computer, running the household with it. She could use a battery case, once we upgrade her iPhone. She’s still on a 4S, that thing just keeps on ticking. Hard to justify an upgrade when a device is still working great and runs the latest version of iOS. Sometimes I think Apple products are too good, they last too long 🙂

        Speaking of the iLamp, I still have two, and they work fine. I loved how you could position the screen just how you wanted. I’m thinking of setting both up as photo displays, just have to figure out how to build them into some part of a wall with an artsy shelf.

        1. Yes. There are some additional points that I’ve been thinking about.

          The front grills of cars, originally a functional necessity, is now an important design feature. It’s sometimes better to makes things more beautiful than to conceal it.

          Depending on how well it sells, Apple could invest in making the battery itself any shape they wanted, as they do for their MacBook. The hump itself could become beautiful. This is something that I doubt Mophie could do both financially and technically.

      2. The Modern aesthetic is “form ever follows function”. Apple is clearly following that aesthetic here, as always.


          1. First, if battery life were the only function that mattered, sure. And I have no doubt Apple would have created the iPhone on that basis, huge battery.

            Second, I can get my iPhone to last well into a second day. Obviously this is purely use case dependent, not universal. So, clearly battery life is sufficient for a sufficient number of people.

            Third, Apple rarely does multiple models, particularly at the beginning, iMac being the notable exception.

            Fourth if things were as bad as the nay sayers make it out, the iPhone wouldn’t sell. Apple has had its share of product duds in the past. It is demonstrable that people don’t just buy Apple just because Apple made it. If the product sucked, it wouldn’t sell. It would go the way of the Yugo, or Cube, (I say the same thing about Android. If were as bad as some say, it wouldn’t have the market share it has.)

            Fifth, battery life in smartphones for everyone is comparable. The differences are marginal, and again, based on how it is used. Competitors have had ample time to show that multiple day battery life is the primary function at the sacrifice of anything/everything else. And they would be selling the most and everyone else would follow.

            That’s pretty much the extent of my interest in this topic. So far the “issues” are non-issues. Else people wouldn’t buy. Obviously there are more important functions than just battery life.


          2. But that’s not the question really, the salient fact is Apple go for 1 or 2mm extra thinness at the cost of full-day battery life for above-average users. That’s clearly form over function, contradicting your original argumentation, unless you’re contending that the extra thinness has some function ?

            As for battery life being irrelevant, the same for all, satisfactory in almost all cases, or the *only* criteria: of course no, no, no and no. As for the brand-sensitivity of smartphone buyers… I’ve seen no study on that.

          3. I did not say “irrelevant”, just not the primary function [to design for].

            You’re a smart guy. Read up on Modern aesthetics. I am not saying Apple has chosen the right path (although sales makes it hard to argue otherwise) or that it is right for everyone. There are certainly more ways to “do” Modern than how Apple has chosen (which shows me the laziness of most other tech companies who insist on following Apples lead).

            There are other schools of Modern design than minimalism. Just look up Zaha Hadid’s work, especially her post post-modern work (she ditched post-modern and returned to modern, but it is extremely expressive). Somehow “Zen” has become the poster child for today’s Modern design.

            I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Form follows function does not mean banal or non-expressive. But it does mean eschewing decoration for the sake of decoration and, ironically, traditionally eschewing tradition. Heck, even Jobs’s predilection for skeuomorphism was about giving visual clues to your operations, i.e. showing a torn edge or corner when throwing a Note page away or changing months on the Calendar.

            Read up on Modern design. Architecture is a great place to start, particularly the Bauhaus. With your marketing background I think you’ll understand it better than most.


          4. There’s an Android phone coming out soon (or is just out) that promises 15 day battery life. As you’ve already pointed out, it likely won’t be a top seller. The majority of consumers seem fine with one day of use. It would be interesting what percentage of iPhone users don’t make it through a day of normal use. All my iOS devices have charge left at the end of a normal day. In a heavy use day I suppose I’d need to charge up, but that’s what battery packs are for, to take care of days that aren’t normal.

          5. Frankly, I’m more of a believer of the porn school of good design: I know it when I see it. And I’m fairly sure the definition of “good design” varies for several market segments, especially with compromises on durability, functionality, price, accessibility and looks (listed here by decreasing order of importance in my case).

            One example to me highlights the incredible disconnect between designers and actual average users: I’m the go-to IT guy for friends and family, middle-class France. An incredible number of my “customers” are confused by iOS and Android’s UIs. That’s a situation where designers are free to do whatever fits on a screen, and have decades of previous experience/examples… the playing field is incredibly level.
            Yet they still all make the same mistakes/assumptions MS solved decades ago on the desktop with indicators for scrolling, labels for icons, clearly differentiated clickable zones, a menu that recaps all possible actions… “to send you click the single arrow. Not the double one. Not the backward one. Backward is left, so you want the arrow pointing right. It might be at the top or below your message…” should be “click Menu, then Send”. But.. text is ugly, I guess ? Plus everybody uses their phones for hours every day and can memorize a few dozen icons…
            I’m not terribly interested in what those people have to say…

          6. Mac OS solved those issues, too. I’m already on record for being quite frustrated with the iOS UI, for many of the reasons you cite. I don’t fault anyone for looking for new ways to do and think of things. That’s the only way new things are discovered. Especially when old ways are based on old metaphors. How any people even know what a floppy disk is any more? Why is that still used for “Save” functions? I still think Apple today is suffering from not having a “customer zero”. That’s when design decisions start to look scatter shot and lose focus.

            My discussion was not about how well the choices the designers made worked, for whom, and why. But more about the design philosophy that drives those decisions and how Apple has a very clear one while most other tech companies do not. I hate it when people start throwing phrases like “form over function” around with no thought about what those words really mean in a design context and the study of aesthetics. Apple has a clear, formal aesthetic they adhere to and valid criticism of their aesthetics should take that into consideration.

            Whether Jackson Pollack’s or Mark Rothko’s work is good art, never mind great art, may be arguable. But they were very deliberate in their choices and fall solidly in the Modern abstract expressionist philosophy that drove their work. To critique them as if they were realist landscape artists is poor analysis.


          7. “Apple has a clear, formal aesthetic they adhere to and valid criticism of their aesthetics should take that into consideration.”
            I’m not sure what you mean by “aesthetic”, but if it means to you what it means to me, isn’t the issue that aesthetics gets both more work and a higher priority than functional things (durability, ease of use…), and especially hardware aesthetics ?
            I’d say the criticism is that they have *too clear* a “formal aesthetic”. Fabergé eggs kinda suck as paperweights…

  3. Did they shoot themselves on the foot on this one??? Why design a phone you intend to be so ” thin” you dont feel it in your pocket yet you would need to encapsulate it in a awry thick looking, design-counter-productive battery case. The thinnest Apple and team wanted to achieve is negated by this thing.

    1. first theres antennagate
    2. then came bendgate
    3. now we have batterygate

    1. “10x radiation in them” sounds like nonsense. Have a source for that?
      Talking about radiation as something that can be “in” a thing does not sound like something that someone who knows what radiation is would say.

  4. Nearly everybody is talking about Apple (over-)prioritizing thinness. What if it’s about the weight?

      1. And about the shipping carbon footprint.
        And about people who like to hold their phones in their hands, like for reading.

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