Modular phones are in vogue this year: Google’s pushing ahead with plans for its own handset with interchangeable cameras and speakers, while LG has already made a stab at things with its G5. You’d be right in thinking that Apple isn’t going to make its own modular iPhone any time soon. But luckily, case maker Otterbox is on hand with the Universe case, which offers attachments for everything from tripods to lenses to flash storage.
Unfortunately, it’s also unspeakably ugly.
The Universe case costs $50/$60 upfront depending on your size of iPhone, but that’s just table stakes. Once you’ve bought the case, you’ll need modules to actually do something with it.
Otterbox has lined up an impressive list of partners so far. Sandisk has a flash drive that will plug into your iPhone or a regular USB port. Square, the number one name in mobile payments, is offering a module to take credit card payments. Other offerings include a battery pack, thermal imaging camera, or selfie stick (ugh).
I have to say, I can’t really see the case catching on. As soon as you attach any of the modules, it makes the entire phone unusably bulky — just imagine trying to fit that into a pants pocket. What’s more, all of the add-on modules are already available as a standalone product: battery cases are a dime a dozen, Square has a proven card reader that costs just $10, and be honest, how often are you going to want a thermal camera?
If anything, Otterbox’s case proves how easy it is to go wrong on modules. The dream of swapping out components as needed is a great one. But more often than not, one-size-fits all really means one size fits none.