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Megan Schiller/MEDILL

Protective cases line the wall at an Apple Store on the Magnificent Mile.


E-cessorize: showing personality through electronic accessories

by Meghan Schiller
March 07, 2012


Santorum

Victorystore.com/ Meghan Schiller/ MEDILL/

Smartphone cases can be used for political advertisement.

If political smart phone cases are too conservative for your taste, try the following:

1. Cloud Pillow lap desk for $49 - The ad says “It’s like reading on cloud nine. You and your book will both stay cool and cozy” with the help of this canvas beanbag cushion that hoists your book, notebook, iPad or e-reader as you read or study. It comes in denim blue with poly-foam beads inside. (Available at Levenger.com)

2. Lakota International Phone Pocket Briefcase for $69. A bison leather phone case with a passport holder, pen holder but no pen, and a 3X5 notepad for ‘on-the-go jotting.’ If you want the pen, the price jumps to $88. That’s a $19 dollar pen-- must be a good one. (Available at Levenger.com)

3. TUMI Ballistic Snap Case for iPad 2 for $95. This protective case for the iPad 2 acts as a portfolio-style case cover, and folds into an easel so you can work anywhere. The cover has “hidden magnetic activation,” so it puts the device to sleep when it’s closed and wakes it up when the cover opens. The case comes in leather, or “ballistic nylon with faux suede interiors”- sounds fancy, eh? (Available at Tumi.com)

4. Moleskin Digital Folio for $55. The famous paper notebook brand now makes a digital folio--aka an iPhone holder with a notepad. “Moleskin brings together the best of the digital and pen-and-paper worlds with this unique iPhone case, which also contains a side-loading notepad.” (Available at Levenger.com)

5. Kate Spade “iPad Folio Hedgehog Case” for $85. Yes, for only $85 you can have a case covered in green hedgehogs. Spade’s products are known for their bold colors and catchy phrases. For example, another $50 iPad sleeve reads “Play Hooky.” How precious.
Apple enthusiasts will have a new reason to buy that expensive designer cover they have been eying: Wednesday's reveal of the newest iPad model, which has a high-resolution "retina" display and 4G broadband network internet capability. Models capable of 4G speeds start at $629.

And as the market for electronic toys grows so does the ancillary market for e-cessories, or electronic accessories. According to Apple, close to 60 million iPads will be sold this year, bringing the company’s total tablet sales to more than 100 million.

Back in the Stone Age, people expressed their personalities through clothing, jewelry, shoes, haircuts and even choice of pet breed. But with the birth of modern technology, some people now judge their peers by the case protecting their coveted iPhone or the bedazzled cover on their e-book reader.

Enter any electronics store and at least one wall will be covered in screen covers, smartphone decorative cases, protective cases, tablet leather cases, external keyboards, car mounts and tablet stands. Desire to own the trendiest items is only human nature, retail experts say.

“A lot of it has to do with fitting in, peer pressure and the desire to be liked,” said Erinann Lindner, 28, an outpatient therapist in Pittsburgh, Pa. She isn't in the smart phone world just yet but she understands the allure. “You see it on television and all of the popular people on TV have a certain thing then that definitely plays a part.”

If you’re new to the scene and are wondering why a person’s iPhone case is important or who spends money on personalizing an already pricey device, one reason is social status.

Nineteen-year-old Lauren Turosik of California, Pa., describes her Chanel phone case as “cute as hell.”

Her weakness for anything sparkly or the Chanel brand leads her to have zero qualms about spending money on the item. “It’s way cuter than an OtterBox and just as functional. You’re not going to get the wow factor that I look for in any purchase with a $4 phone case,” she said. An OtterBox is a $50 heavy-duty case that protects against drops and damage.

Turosik’s thinking, like many young people’s, is that life’s too short not to buy something you want and spend the rest of your life wishing you had.

“It’s people like me that keep us out of another Great Depression,” she said. “Buy it and be happy.”

In his book “Trading Up: The New American Luxury,” retail consultant Michael Silverstein describes a class of people he calls “traders up.” These individuals are willing to pay higher prices for types of goods he calls New Luxury, which he defines as “products and services that possess higher levels of quality, taste, and aspiration than other goods in the category but are not so expensive as to be out of reach.”

Not all purchases made by “traders-up” are driven by the desire for happiness, but rather the buyers are attempting to manage the stress and difficulty in their lives, he said.

This buying trend isn’t fueled only by angst-ridden young adults--parents are splurging to make sure their kids aren’t left out.

“Sometimes parents will do things just to make their kids happy,” said therapist Lindner, who doesn't have a child of her own. “A lot of times that involves buying things that may be inappropriate. Eventually you see a lot of that trendy stuff come into Walmart and Target so that the mass population can get it too.”

It's not just an American phenomenon.

“My daughter is only going to be 10-years-old, so I don’t know if she’ll even be getting the iPhone,” said Sandy Vaunois, visiting Chicago from Aix-en-Provence, France. “But to be honest... she’ll get what she wants because she was an only child for nine years. Now that she’s not the only one anymore, we want to make her happy.”

Although e-cessories may seem unnecessary, some save people both time and worry.

Your significant other can never use the “Sorry, my phone died” excuse again if you buy him or her a “Mophie Juice Pack Air” at the Apple store for $80.

This external battery offers the protection of a case while the extended built-in rechargeable battery charges with the flip of a switch. The lightweight design can double a person’s talk and listening time. No more asking the waiter to charge your phone behind the bar.

Emma Decourey, 20, just heard about the Mophie phone case and wishes she knew about it sooner. As a student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., she doesn’t have patience for her boyfriend's weak phone battery.

“My boyfriend works from 2 p.m. until 10:30 pm every day. He’ll go out after work so he won’t text me all night. The next day he’ll say ‘My phone died at work and I didn’t go home,’” she said.

E-cessories have quickly become a popular gift item, and since they are available at all price levels, every consumer can find one to fit his or her budget.

TUMI sells a $145 leather iPad cover, perfect for a tech-obsessed co-worker. Italian-designer Salvatore Ferragamo's calfskin iPad case for $390 catches the attention of the fashion elite.

Designers' decisions to offer e-cessories, relatively affordable compared with other items they make, allows consumers to advertise a brand without breaking the bank.

“I really like Kate Spade in general so I think its cool that I can put her on my phone," said Cassandra Edlis, 20, from Apollo, Pa. "A purse is going to cost around $500, but you can put Kate Spade on your phone and its only going to cost you $30 to $40.”

Even political candidates are hopping on the train of electronic expression.

President Barack Obama’s campaign site touts an online store where supporters can protect their iPhones with one of four different designs. The cases, appropriately red, white and blue themed, cost $40 and clearly state “Made in America” across the bottom. Money received from sales supports Obama’s re-election campaign.

For supporters of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul there are options available from a few online stores. For $24.99 you can transform the back of your phone into the face of Rick Santorum or Ron Paul. Things get pricier moving down the tax bracket: Mitt Romney’s case costs around $37.45.

Whether or not these cases are flying off the shelves is a different story.

“I would never get an iPhone case with anyone’s picture, but certainly not either of the current Republican hopefuls,” said Karen Verm, 35, a Pittsburgh-based pianist and registered Republican.

Even a proud Ron Paul supporter isn't interested in advertising his political preferences on his phone.

“I wouldn’t buy a Ron Paul phone cover,” said Chase Midler, 23, a network security engineer in Albuquerque, N.M. “If I wanted to promote him there are much more cost-effective ways such as a donation to his campaign or enlightening people about his political outlook and why he is a viable candidate.”