More than a year ago we asked whether you really needed a modular smartphone when companies were starting to pitch modular smartphone cases that would allow you to add features to your handset.
The question seems more relevant than ever, now that Google’s Project Ara ambitions have been scaled back (you’ll be able to swap out components like cameras, batteries, speakers, and storage modules, but not the screen, processor, or RAM). There’s just one problem: The nexpaq modular case that hit Kickstarter last year with an estimated ship date of January, 2016 still isn’t actually shipping yet.
But now there’s another option, and it comes from a big player in the smartphone case space: OtterBox has launched the uniVERSE Case System.
Here’s the idea: buy a protective case for your phone for around $50 and then you can add functionality to your phone by purchasing a series of accessories designed to fit into the case and connect to the phone.
At launch, the uniVERSE Case System is available for just four phones: the iPhone 6 and 6s and the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus. The case for the smaller phone is priced at $50 and the larger model is $60.
As for modules, there’s a pretty large number to choose form at launch, and prices range from $20 for a wallet clip that lets you store credit cards or cash on the back of your phone to $249 for a thermal camera.
Other modules include a $50 contactless payment and chip reader from Square, an $80 4-in-1 lens attachment from olloclip that gives you fisheye, wide-angle, and 10x and 15x zoom lenses, and a SanDisk iXpand flash drive that lets you add 32GB to 128GB of storage to your iPhone for $60 to $120.
There are also speakers, tripod mounts, and batteries.
Module connect to the iPhone using a Lightning connector or Bluetooth, so theoretically you could attach accessories of these types without a modular case. But incorporating them as modules in the case holds them in place and makes them feel like they’re part of the unit… until you remove them and swap in other modules.
Those prices could add up pretty quickly if you purchased a bunch of accessories. But the system allows you to add features that might not otherwise be available, or improve your phone’s battery life, WiFi performance, or photography feature set.
There’s no word on if or when we’ll see cases for other phones, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Otterbox released versions for other popular handsets, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S or Note line of phones.