How to design Appcessories: Filling in that Missing Bite

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Published: 22nd February 2012
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Ironically, while Apple wasn’t (physically) present at the 2012 Consumer Electronic Show (CES), there were more than enough companies peddling products specifically Made For iPads/iPhones (MFI). http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/05/best-ces-ever/

Here at Titoma we’re seeing a surge in requests from companies asking us us to design, develop, and manufacture products that in some form or another interact with the ubiquitous i-Products.

While in years past many gadgets were developed as standalone products, these days smart firms implement their idea on the Apple or Android hardware that people already have in their pockets, thus enormously speeding up sales and delivery by simply selling it as an app via the Apple store.

You’d think that’d be bad news for a hardware product developer like Titoma! But the disadvantage of just selling software is of course that a competitor can build a clone of your app even faster than you did. Having a hardware component to your product still constitutes a major barrier to entry, and buys you at least 6 months.

That’s why many people are now looking to make devices that use the Apple hardware as the core engine and add something to make a new, more valuable product—a bit like filling in the missing bite on the Apple logo. In this way you substantially reduce the cost of your device, while simultaneously boosting your marketing because many users are so in love with their Apple products that they will buy anything that extends their device’s functionality.

So we can’t say we’re surprised that many companies want to capitalize on this opportunity. Apple is incredibly successful at making complex products user friendly enough to be loved by the masses. Tablets have actually been around for quite a few years now; already in 1999 I managed the design team for the Qbe tablet which won Comdex Best of Show. But it did require Apple’s magic in user experience to really make the tablet a sales success.

Qualifying for Apple’s MFI Program

So what does it take to jump on the MFI bandwagon? Compliance with Apple’s MFI program is a must unless you don’t mind getting sued for selling unauthorized accessories.

These lawsuits show how serious Apple is in controlling all aspects of their products and ensuring that its strict quality standards (and profits) are maintained. Apple is all about a perfect user experience, and they do not want some third party device to crash one of their products and make them look bad.

To start with, make sure that you have a mature enough idea for a product, target market, and retail price for Apple to take you seriously. Your device will then need to satisfy third-party tests to demonstrate that it won't interfere with the iOS hardware; some of these tests may include RF Over-The-Air (OTA) performance and TDMA Noise. Then, Apple will need to approve your final product design before you can start selling it.

These tests will cost US$20K or a lot more depending on the complexity of your device. Apple will also collect a flat fee for every electronic accessory sold. It also takes time, developing something for Apple tends to add about 3 months to the schedule compared to developing for Android. On the other hand the hassle with Android is that you have a plethora of hardware and screensizes to deal with, doing it right (as Apple makes you!) means optimizing for each and every one of them.

Outside of the expenses associated with the MFI program, you also need to take into consideration the investment required in the actual designing, developing, and manufacturing your product. You don’t need to be selling your product in the millions, but it does entail selling enough to be able to make the sizeable investment worthwhile. For more on this, please read the article: How Much Will It Cost to Have a New Electronic Product Developed in Asia?

So while complying with the MFI program will cost you additional money and time it does guarantee that your device will work seamlessly with any Apple product; and most importantly the Apple stamp of approval is a valuable marketing tool. Overall it’s certainly worth the investment because anything associated with Apple tends to retail at twice the price.

If you are interested in a Made-For-Apple product designed and manufactured, mail me at case.engelen@titoma.com; we’ll be more than happy to answer your questions. Titoma can ensure your device passes the testing and advise you on any necessary adjustments needed to bring your product to market the fastest way possible

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