Earlier this month, mobile accessory maker Mophie announced a new line of products for the new iPhone 7. These accessories utilize Mophie’s Hold Force magnetic attachment system. From their press release: “The base case fits snugly over your smartphone. Magnetic plates embedded in the back of the case allow you to attach any hold force accessory simply by touching it to the back of the smartphone.”
When I read the description, and later saw images (and video, above) of this new line of accessories, it became clear that these magnets weren’t strong enough to hold my interest. And the shame of it is, magnets may very well be the future of smartphone accessories, but it doesn’t look like Mophie’s compass is pointing in the right direction.
Mophie’s been making battery cases for smartphones for several years now, and the value is unmistakable. Instead of having to lug around a separate battery to recharge your phone when it gets low, the built-in battery in their Juice Pack cases recharge the phone with the push of a button. It’s such a useful accessory, that even Apple has jumped into the game, with their own battery case (albeit one of debatable attractiveness).
Still, Mophie is the industry leader (64% market share in the battery case arena): so what they do matters. And let’s take a look at what they’ve done, just this year.
In February of this year, Mophie unveiled their first wireless Juice Pack battery case, tailored to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge models: This means that their battery case does not interfere with the phone’s built-in wireless charging function (a feature still absent from the iPhone). Now the Juice Pack can recharge the same way the “naked” phones could (see image below), on any Qi-certified charging stand.
NOTE: To learn more about the new Qi standard, visit its page at the Wireless Power Consortium site: https://www.wirelesspowerconsortium.com/about/benefits.html
It’s an exciting technology, and it’s easy to predict as the future for mobile device recharging (as I mentioned in an earlier post, I expect Apple’s gameplan is to go completely wireless in the near future, starting with the removal of the headphone jack. But more on that in a moment).
In May, Mophie expanded its Charge Force line to support the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, and 6S Plus.
Things were carrying on swimmingly. Now iPhone users could finally enjoy wireless charging, a feature built in to many phones across several makers—even Blackberry!— to this point.
I, myself, jumped on the wireless charging bandwagon for my iPhone 6S. I had been using their Juice Pack Plus, along with their proprietary desktop and car dashboard charging cradles. And it wasn’t perfect.
First of all, I bought the Juice Pack Plus almost immediately after the iPhone 6S came out, so I wasn’t sure if it would fit correctly. The package for the case still only said “iPhone 6,” but Mophie’s website indicated compatibility with both the 6 and 6S.
For the record: the iPhone 6 measures 0.27 inches thick, whereas the newer 6S measures 0.28 inches thick. Due to the snug fit of the Juice Pack Plus, that .01 inch difference is important, and noticeable. For one, it is near impossible to pry the case off the 6S if need be; and the pressure exerted by the case on my iPhone started to discolor the screen in the middle of my phone.
In addition, the charging cradles didn’t always make a solid enough connection to deliver the charge to the case. These cradles feature small metal pins which have to line up with small metal plates on the bottom of the standard Juice Pack case. It’s a terrible feeling to wake up and find that instead of recharging overnight on your nightstand, your phone has worn down its battery, waiting to be plugged in.
The car charger was fraught in its own way, requiring the phone to be “clicked in” on top and bottom for a secure fit for the ride. If I put it in at the wrong angle—easy to do when in a hurry—then not only would the phone/case combo not recharge in the car, but the misalignment meant that there was the risk of the phone popping right out of the cradle during a drive. This is how drivers get distracted, and how accidents happen.
Upgrading to the Charge Force line was a no-brainer. Instead of fussy cradles that may or may not line up, the included wireless charging mat utilized both gravity, as well as a strong magnet, to keep the phone securely charging. Interestingly, this system does require the phone to lie parallel on the mat, as opposed to perpendicular, or at some other angle. But as I said, the magnets in the mat keep things pretty well aligned.
In the car, the only option so far is the Charge Force Vent Mount, which, as you may guess, clips into the car’s air conditioner vent. It’s a solid, stable fit; and with its own strong magnets, I don’t worry about the phone falling off or failing to charge in the car. I am, however, not thrilled with the blockage of my precious AC during long, hot drives in Southern California.
Hopefully they’ll introduce a dashboard/windshield version to replace their problematic Juice Pack Car Dock.
“Hopefully they’ll introduce” is where we are now. Currently, the Juice Pack connects via the iPhone’s Lightning port to deliver power to the phone. The case itself features a Micro-USB connector on the bottom; and then either Mophie’s unique “frictionless” charging points on the bottom of the Juice Pack, or the newer Qi-compatible Charge Force system on the back of the Juice Pack Wireless. The iPhone 6/6S headphone jack is not easily accessible through the thick case, so Mophie makes a headphone adapter (included with some, but not all, Juice Pack models. Double-check the list of package contents before getting yours. They’re happy to sell the adapter separately, of course).
Immediately upon arrival of the iPhone 7, I’m certain Mophie furiously went to work designing a new Juice Pack battery case for the redesigned phone—a case now absent a headphone jack, of course. The hope was—and remains—a pass-through port for Apple’s proprietary Lightning jack. This would allow Juice Pack users to connect Apple’s Lightning-to-headphone adapter and continue to use their wired headphones as they would without the case on.
If Mophie can’t license the Lightning port from Apple, I would also accept an adapter built right in to the case; and thinking about it, I feel that’s the more likely route—after all, third-party accessory makers (like Scosche, below) are already making their own Lightning-to-headphone adapters, so why shouldn’t Mophie just build one into their next case?
“Their next case,” is indeed what they announced on October 3rd. And it has NONE of the features I’d hoped for, nor any of the reliable Mophie design trademarks I’ve come to rely upon over the years.
I honestly don’t understand what they’re doing with the Hold Force case and accessories (currently only designed for the iPhone 7, so they can’t claim this is their new universal platform for all iPhones). Instead of developing a new battery case for the new phone, as they have since the iPhone 4, they’ve pivoted to this strange modular design, allowing for the option to attach an external battery to the “base case,” but connecting to the iPhone with a short, ugly cable. Apple’s “humpback” Battery Case may be unsightly, but at least it has indoor plumbing!
My hunch is that this Hold Force system is the first product of the 2016 merger between Mophie and erstwhile rival accessory maker Zagg. The system has none of the elegance I’ve come to expect from Mophie, and I hope they have something better planned for the iPhone 7.
Despite everything, I’m optimistic, because instead of simply hawking the Hold Force as, “This IS our case for the iPhone 7!,” their website cheerfully displays this banner:
Naturally, I signed up to get notified. I’ll be watching their website closely, almost as if I were held to it with… I don’t know, velcro, maybe? ◼︎