The iPhone case Apple should have built: Now on sale

The iPhone case Apple should have built: Now on sale

Summary: While the iPhone itself is a head-turner, it regularly gets covered over by some of the world’s ugliest cases. A surprising Kickstarter project has designed a new case that feels like it could have come from Apple.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility
These were the original four colors of the AL13, including the exclusive green model that was only available to Kickstarter supporters.

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 were crafted like two beautiful Samurai swords. Few mobile devices have ever been in the same league in terms of hardware design—at least until the HTC One came along.

Of course, the iPhone's design has famously traded function for form at times. But, from a purely aesthetic point of view, the real challenge for the iPhone is that its owners value the device so much they wrap it in hideously ugly cases to protect it.

The world's ugliest phone cases are used to protect the world’s most beautiful mobile device. The evidence is in abundance from Midtown Manhattan to your local grocery store. There are plastic ones, purple ones, rugged ones, flimsy ones, cartooned ones, bumper ones, and just-plain-ridiculous ones.

It's a crime against technology.

However, two guys from Florida have now crowdfunded a product to fix it. They designed a thin aluminum iPhone case that looks remarkably like something that could have come from Apple. In fact, this is the case Apple should have made.

Called the AL13, referring to the abbreviation for aluminum in the periodic table and the fact the case only weighs 13 grams, the product has the same brushed metal look as the iPhone 5. It's available in an iPhone 4/4S version or an iPhone 5version and comes in five colors—black, silver, red, blue, and gunmetal. It's half the weight of most other metal iPhone cases, doesn't require any tools to install, and has a shock-absorbing rubber lining inside the metal. The elevator pitch is that it "offers protection without altering the look of your iPhone 4 or 5."

AL13 silver and black cases
Here is the AL13 silver case on a white iPhone 5 (left) and the AL13 black case on a black iPhone 5 (right).

A number of phone makers now design their own official cases for their signature devices, including Samsung for the Galaxy S series and Google for the Nexus 4 line. However, while Apple built the portfolio case for the original iPad and the smart cover for the more recent iPads, the company has barely made an effort to do an official case for the iPhone. Apple released its "Bumper" case with the iPhone 4, but it was overpriced and poorly made and was quietly discontinued with the iPhone 5. That has left the iPhone case market wide open for accessory makers, but unfortunately, most of them have done uninspiring work—until now.

At the end of 2012, Lester Mapp and Jeremy Foster built a prototype of the iPhone case they always wanted and tossed it up on Kickstarter on December 28. They needed $20,000 to get the project off the ground and they set a Kickstarter deadline of six weeks.

The product was almost an instant hit. On December 31, Foster posted an update on Kickstarter, writing, “WHATTTT!!! We are so incredibly excited about how the project has been received so far. We always knew AL13 was awesome – but we're so glad to see you all agree with us!”

It blew past $20,000 within 10 days. By the time the Kickstarter campaign ended on February 13, it had over 1,400 supporters and had raised $86,250.

"It was totally organic. That was the mind-blowing part," the 27 year-old Mapp told ZDNet. "When we hit goal, we were thrilled. But, at the same time, it was almost like a scary realization that it was real—like you better do it and you better do it good."

At the end of December, Mapp (left) and Foster (right) launched the AL13 on Kickstarter with this intro video.

Last week, they shipped the finished product to their Kickstarter supporters. Unlike 84 percent of the top project on Kickstarter, it shipped on time.

With the Kickstarter run delivered, the AL13 is now on sale to the public via the company website, Designed by M. The M refers to Mapp since Lester designed the signature product. He's also the CEO, while Foster runs marketing, and they now have a team of seven to handle sales of the AL13 and to work on future projects.

With the AL13 delivering on time unlike most of the big Kickstarter projects, Mapp credited the fact that they did a lot of planning and had manufacturing prepared before they started the Kickstarter campaign. They were ready to succeed. During the campaign and up until delivery, Mapp also regularly communicated updates to Kickstarter supporters every step of the way.

"We were honest about exactly where we were in the process," Mapp said. "We had already spent our own money going through dozens of prototypes, and when we launched at Kickstarter all we needed was money for manufacturing."

The AL13 sells for $79. That's a premium above the $45 that it cost to get in the door at Kickstarter (although the limited edition green AL13 was a $65 exclusive for Kickstarter supporters). Since most cases cost $10-$20, many will balk at paying that much for an aluminum. It is undoubtedly a premium product. But, for those who want the best case that money can buy to suit up with an iPhone, then you'll be hard pressed to find a better alternative than the AL13.

For a full look at the AL13, see our gallery Kickstarting the ultimate iPhone case: A photo story.

Here is the white iPhone 5 in the green Kickstarter edition of the AL13. | Image: Jason Hiner

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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  • Those look great!

    I am not an Apple fan at all but I do like the looks of the iPhone 5. It's so simple and elegant and it really does make your average Android device look like a toy.
    But I fully agree, the cases that some customers have on their phones are just terrible. Not only are they butt ugly, they don't protect the phone at all!
    The cases from this project look really nice though. They support the looks of the phone and they seem to offer some protection as well.
    I would love to see them succeed and make cases for more different devices!
    • And Just

      How much were you paid for your "Comment"?
    • Couldn't agree less

      I think iPhones are both ugly and badly designed. Glass on both sides anyone? Oh wait, that didn't work. Let's try a phone made of a material so strong that I can wrap my sandwiches in it.

      Sorry, but no. iPhones are not pinnacles of design, unless you mean bad design. They are neither attractive nor functional.

      That said, *some* of the internals are truly great: fantastic screens, fantastic cameras, etc. Others are really bad, like the antennae.

      The best case will at least cover up that stupid looking Apple logo emblazoned on all their products. It is super douchey.
      x I'm tc
      • Cool story

        "Oh wait, that didn't work"

        In your opinion. Millions of happy customers would probably disagree though. I love the iPhone 4 design. IMHO, it is one of the true classic modern designs of our era, alongside the Bangle designed BMWs (which also drew a lot of criticism, despite it setting the trend for virtually all modern cars). As for the glass of iPhone 4, I know of very few instances of the glass breaking -- it's probably the same number, percentage wise, as cracked plastics/screens on other phones.

        "Others are really bad, like the antennae."

        The antennae is great. You get amazing signal strength on the iPhone. You can make the signal drop, but it doesn't tend to happen so much. Truth is, that was never really a problem outside of tech journalism. Millions of iPhone 4 customers used their wireless devices just fine.
  • A real phone doesn't need a case/condom.

    See a nokia 920 for a real phone.
  • Those style cases dont even work

    my gf's 4S shattered like an egg when dropped.
  • Too bad...

    To bad there is even a market, if Apple had designed it properly there would be no need.
    • Re: Too Bad

      I guess that means no smartphone is designed properly seen hundreds of cases for every smartphone available.
    • designed it right?

      Have you seen the torture tests online? Looks like it stands up better than other phones in the market.
    • Cases on phones are just smart, "designed properly" is irrelevant

      I never put my first Blackberry in a case, and I constantly dropped that thing, as it was always on me. The phone held up just fine, but looked like it had survived a nuclear blast by the time I was done with it.

      When you think of how much many phones are worth, plopping a 20-50$ case just makes good sense. The new iPhones are aluminum, and fairly tough... but why keep a several hundred dollar phone at risk? A case is just common sense.
    • Too bad...

      Says "NoAxToGrind", the famous industrial designer! Oh, wait...
  • ugly cases

    I am amazed that people buy an iPhone 5 because they like the thinner and lighter format, then go out and buy a case that makes it an inch thick, and twice as heavy. Maybe they should think about handling it more carefully. Mine has a clear TPU case that reveals its beauty, and protects it well enough for a pocket height drop onto concrete (did that, no damage). Of course if you are one of those people who routinely drop their phone under a bulldozer, maybe ugly isn't such a bad deal.....
  • Don't understand what's the fascination and the absurd pricing

    Just head over to any Asian country and you will see there is already a variety of the same kind of 'cases' with the same kind of material, why does this specific one deserve a whole exclusive post?
  • Since when is a "bumper" considered a "case"??

    The developers don't even claim it is a case. So why are you calling it a "case"??
  • Saying the iPhone traded style over function.....

    is like admiring the women in stilettos while ignoring their ugly deformed feet!
  • For the price of the phone

    Apple should have built a phone that would not damage so easily
  • Lumia

    or you could just buy the lumia 920 and not need a case at all.
  • Why waste on packaging?

    This looks like a great case that I would love to try, but I would not pay $75 for it. It's a shame they felt they had to waste so much money on the packaging. I don't understand why they would make such a mistake putting money into a box that will be thrown away. Following Apple's lead, perhaps? This case sells itself, if you just let the consumer see it through some cheap packaging. Incredibly short-sighted.
  • EDGE Design

    Use an Alfa case from EDGE Design. Great look and solid protection.