Why Apple’s Smart Battery Case Design Actually Works: Gruber

Although Apple released it quietly, the Smart Battery Case is making waves in the blogopshere due to its weird design choice. Some reviewers, such as Joanna Stern of the WSJ and Adam Clark Estes of Gizmodo, love it; while others, such as Lauren Goode of The Verge, don’t. After using it for several days, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber concluded that the design choice may be funny or weird but still works. Here is why.

First, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make, at least according to his “little birdie” source (maybe Phil Schiller?)–splashing cold water on the theory its design was to avoid Mophie’s case patents (as per Nilay Patel of The Verge):

A well-placed little birdie who is perched in a position to know told me that Nilay Patel’s speculation that the unusual design was the byproduct of Apple trying to steer clear of patents held by Mophie (or any other company for that matter) are “absolute nonsense”. This birdie was unequivocal on the matter. Whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent about it, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make.

Secondly, the Smart Battery Case is an “inelegant design, but it is solving a problem for which no one has created an elegant solution,” Gruber says. Apple just chose to make severe compromises to solve a major issue for power users: The iPhone 6/6s battery simply doesn’t last a whole day.

I think the main reasons for this design are practical. The battery doesn’t extend to the top in order to accommodate the hinge design for inserting and removing the phone. Why it doesn’t extend to the bottom is a little less obvious. I suspect one reason is that that’s where the “passively coupling antenna” is.1 Extending the battery to cover it would defeat the purpose. Also, there’s a hand feel aspect to it — normally I rest the bottom of my iPhone on my pinky finger. With this case, I can rest the bottom ridge of the hump on my pinky, and it’s kind of nice. I also like putting my index finger atop the hump.

As he points out, making the iPhone 6s a bit thicker than it is would have eliminated the need for an external battery (see the battery life of the bigger iPhone 6/6s), but since Apple decided to slim down the device, they had to come up with something that solved the complaints of power users.

The Apple solution looks weird, but the material choices and software integration (besides it being all Lightning) make it a viable alternative that costs $129 in Canada. There are cheaper alternatives, but Gruber says if he had to choose between the available battery cases, he’d choose Apple’s. (By the way, his go-to solution is a portable external battery from Mophie.)

If I were going to go back to using a battery case, there’s no question in my mind that I’d go with Apple’s. The only downside to it compared to Mophie’s (and the others — but I think Mophie is clearly the leader of the pack) is that it looks funny from the back. But to my eyes it doesn’t look that funny, and though third-party cases don’t look weird, they don’t look (or feel) good. In every other way, Apple’s Smart Battery Pack wins: it’s all Lightning, so any Lightning peripherals you have will work, and there’s no need to pack a grody micro USB cable; it supplies more than enough additional power to get you through an active day; its unibody design makes it much easier to insert and remove the phone; and it feels much better in hand

Technology enthusiast, rocker, biker and writer of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter or contact me via email: istvan@iphoneincanada.ca

  • Shane

    Never had a battery case. Are they really that much of a pain to put on and take off?

  • Salinger

    I wonder what he would have saidif Samsung had made the exact same case as a 3rd party solution? Somehow, I don’t think he’d be singing the same praises. Oh, the power of that Apple logo.

    See Unbox Therapy’s review on YouTube. Along with the absolutely horrid design, he points to another drawback; the material. He puts it in and out of his pocket one time, and it picks up all kinds of lint and looks even more horrible.

  • KIII

    Not at all, with Mophie the bottom pulls off and the phone slides out.

  • KIII

    Dear Apple, if you want slim please keep it to the 4″ model. On the largest screen option for future models please double the thickness of the device for more battery allowance.

  • I totally agree with you, but slim in the fad right now.
    If Apple did exactly what you said, there’d be equal amount of people complaining about thick phones and the Android community would have a field day with it making all their silly #FatGate titles and such lol.

  • johnnygoodface

    But you’re stuck with a micro-USB port

  • Jezzah

    I don’t understand why mophie can’t make a version of their battery cases that charges via lightning.

  • Salinger

    Being “stuck” with a port that is near universal other than Apple products is, maybe, not a bad thing.

  • poopchute

    Expensive licensing, I would assume.

  • KIII

    Is that the difficult part?

  • KIII

    Apple has a patent….

  • KIII

    Market the highest end model towards business with the ability of going 3-4 times the duration of any other current hand set charge cycle.
    Fads always change.

  • Brad Fortin

    “Near universality” doesn’t help much if you don’t already own a micro-USB cable but already have plenty of Lightning cables.

  • KIII

    One reason why they always include the cable.

  • Brad Fortin

    Still easier to use the cables you already have.

  • Ashley Mann

    I love the Apple battery case. It fits perfectly in my hand, texting is a lot easier and safer I don’t feel like I’m going to drop my iPhone I have a better grip. I have zero lint that I can see I have charcoal grey. My iPhone is silver and the colour combinations are awesome. I have yet to run out of power during a full day. I’m a power user for sure. Solves the problem brilliantly. Love it. Well worth the price. I couldn’t be happier.

  • KIII

    Yes you are right but if you are the type that prefers the look and the extra amount of protection offered by a Space Pack you will have the cable.

  • aaloo

    i would take gruber’s word over unboxtherapy any day. that guy just wants hits on his channel.

  • Salinger

    Are you serious Brad? You don’t have anything that uses a micro-USB?! Wow.

  • Salinger

    It doesn’t matter whose word you take. The truth is, and people can deny it all they want, if this case was produced by anyone other than Apple, it wouldn’t even be in the realm of consideration. It is a monstrosity.

  • Salinger

    The Mophie case would accomplish all the same things for less, and look a heck of a lot better doing it.

  • Brad Fortin

    I do, but we’re not talking about my use case. I’m talking about a hypothetical use case where someone, who has no micro-USB cables and only has Lightning cables, is looking for a new case and that part of their purchasing decision may be based on which kinds of cables they already own. In that sort of scenario being “stuck” with a micro-USB port would indeed be a bad thing.

  • Salinger

    I think you’re not that atypical in that you use an iPhone but have micro USB devices as well. The chances that someone would be using an iPhone, but no other portable electronics, no bluetooth speaker, no PS3 or PS4, no older model Apple TV, no anything that uses a micro USB is almost unfathomable. But, in the highly unlikely scenario that did occur, the Mophie case comes with a cable (so now they do have one) as well as a headphone extender.

    If we want to talk hypotheticals, then you can imagine all kinds of scenarios. If you want to talk practical reality, the truth is the overwhelming majority of people will have a micro USB cable in their household, so I completely stand by the premise that saying you’re “stuck with micro USB” is a strawman argument.