The iPhone 15 Pro case market is a minefield right now

Between Apple no longer making leather products and the utter disappointment of the new FineWoven case, there’s more opportunity this year for third-party iPhone case makers than perhaps ever before. But for a lot of manufacturers, the new Action Button in the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is throwing a big old wrench into their plans.

Over the past week, I’ve received case samples from a number of companies, and it’s clear which ones bet correctly on the Action Button’s existence and which ones hedged their bets a little too hard on Apple sticking with the traditional ringer switch. Some brands, such as Nomad and MOFT, bet that Apple would replace the ringer switch with a button this year and designed their cases accordingly: there’s a metal button in the case that allows you to easily activate the Action Button whenever you want.

But other popular brands such as Peak Design and Bellroy have shipped iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max cases with a cutout above the volume buttons to expose the ringer switch, instead of a hard button to press the Action Button. The result is the Action Button is recessed below the lip of the case, making it nearly impossible to use unless you contort the tip of your finger to reach it. It makes it very difficult to use the best new feature of the Pro line this year.

The root of the problem is that the typical third-party case maker doesn’t actually know what the new iPhone will look like (or even be called) until it’s announced onstage during Apple’s event. In order to catch the lucrative wave of customers who buy the new phones on release day and want a case, the case maker has to rely on rumors and reporting to determine the dimensions and features of the new phone and then manufacture its cases before the iPhone is even announced. Most years, when Apple makes minor changes to the iPhone’s dimensions, that works out in their favor. But when a big hardware change comes along, it makes things much more difficult to predict.

Peak Design explained the situation in a Reddit post: “We actually do not have the literal 3D details from Apple and so we are reliant on industry rumors to inform the design. In the case of the new “Action Button,” there were rumors in both the switch and the button direction and we also did not have much information on how a potential button would be used. Because of these conflicting rumors, we opted for the safer route and designed a cutout that would give good access to the button feature or a switch depending on which rumor ended up being the actual truth.

An account claiming to be from Peak Design founder Peter Dering further detailed the predicament in another post on Reddit. “We decided to go with a cutout instead of a button a) because we couldn’t be certain that they would be using the Action Button, and b) we were hopeful that the cutout would still provide a reasonably good experience,” it says. The company apparently manufactured and shipped 30,000 cases before it recognized that the cutout provided a subpar experience compared to a proper button.

It’s a big risk for the case maker to take, but the reward can be huge — smaller companies that can’t afford that risk might not be able to ship their cases until many weeks after phones are in customers’ hands, missing a big opportunity.

And when the bet is wrong, it can cost a lot to fix it, both in monetary and environmental terms. The Reddit posts lay out a plan to retool Peak Design’s manufacturing to include the button, but those updated designs won’t be available for four to six weeks. In the meantime, the company is attempting to come up with a retrofit solution for those who bought a case already. After this article was originally published, Peak Design created a support page that details its plans to fix the case, including providing store credit of $15 to $40 for those that already purchased cases.

It might be smart to wait a few weeks before splurging on a fancy case

Bellroy representative Julia Gaw similarly tells The Verge the company is “working on a solution to make that an integrated button rather than a cutout for the next production run. With what we know now, we acknowledge that a raised button is more fit-for-purpose.” Gaw says that cases with the design change and integrated button are expected to start shipping in November. Bellroy is also working on a retrofit solution to add the button to existing cases and customers will be able to exchange their case for the new design when it’s available.

Case maker Caudabe says that customers who ordered one of its Sheath or Synthesis cases by September 27th will be able to get a version with a button later in October at no additional cost and keep the case they already received.

If you’ve got an iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max and are looking for a good case to go with your new phone, right now the options are quite limited. There’s a good chance the case that fits your style and budget might not support the Action Button well. (It can also be difficult to tell from online listings if the case has a button or just a cutout.) My recommendation is to buy from a company or store with a good return policy, or perhaps wait a few weeks for the market to shake out and the companies to ship cases with proper buttons on them.

We’re working on a guide to our favorite cases for the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max and will publish something once we’ve gotten all of the ones in that we want to test. In the meantime, be safe out there.

Update, Thursday, September 28th, 2023, 10:45AM ET: Added link to Peak Design’s support page for customers that already purchased a case.

Update, Thursday, September 28th, 2023, 8:40AM ET: Added information about Bellroy’s plans to address the issue with its cases.