Apple’s high-end iPhones are known for their sleek metal casings. The company spent years perfecting the machining of the iPhone 4 and then the iPhone 5 cases. Other manufacturers have done the same with their high-end smartphones, most notably HTC with its One smartphone. Apple’s largest competitor, Samsung, has taken a different route, crafting its Galaxy smartphone lineup out of a tough plastic.
This year, Apple finally turned to plastic to keep costs down. The new iPhone 5C breaks away from Apple tradition and is cased in a polycarbonate plastic. The company unapologetic about this decision.
The iPhone 5C, in fact, could be a preview of things to come for the smartphone industry. Industry analyst firm IHS today estimates that the market for molded plastic components for phones will rise rapidly in the coming years. The market is already predicted to hit $3.5 billion this year, up slightly from last year’s $3.3 billion. In the coming years, though, the plastics market for phones is expected by IHS to hit $4.5 billion by 2017, a full 27% increase over four years. The total weight of plastic resin used in phones in 2017 is expected to be 336,000 metric tons.
“Plastic components are becoming increasingly important in mobile handsets, and especially in smartphones,” said Kristin Squires, a chemicals industry consultant at IHS. “Amid rising competition in the market, smartphone original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are seeking ways to drive down costs for raw materials, manufacturing and assembly. Plastic offers multitude ways to cut these expenses.”