北歐風格的混血勢力——唯光科技「Just Mobile」

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2011 / 5月

文‧王婉嘉 圖‧藍春曉


蘋果狂潮刮起全球旋風!據官方統計,iPhone問世5年,已大舉突破上億銷量,上市1年的iPad,也有1,500萬台佳績;蘋果周邊延伸的無限商機,成為人人覬覦的市場大餅,來自台中的唯光科技採用藍海戰術,與國際級的設計團隊聯手合作,在廝殺戰場中闖出一片天。


今年1月,美國拉斯維加斯的全球最大消費電子展CES會場上,來自紐約,擅長以iPad作畫而聲名大噪的藝術家David Kassan,手握鋁製觸控筆,在iPad螢幕上描繪栩栩如生的彩色人像,引來眾人驚呼連連。

會場走逛一圈,只要是蘋果相關的產品攤位,都不約而同地清一色以X造型支架展示iPhone,吸引消費者目光。

這兩款分別名為「AluPen」和「Xtand」的觸控筆、支架,以簡約設計、環保鋁合金材質為特色,都來自台德跨國合作的混血品牌「Just Mobile」。

「蘋果」是門好生意!

品牌歷史邁入第7年,在以蘋果周邊產品為主力之前,Just Mobile與其幕後的「唯光科技公司」也歷經一段由代工走向品牌的轉型之路。

6年級中段班的唯光科技總經理黃趙光回憶,當年他離開台北的工作,回到中部另覓機會時,身在德國的友人尼爾斯正急需找人幫忙採購,於是一通越洋電話後,兩人相偕創業,於2005年成立Just Mobile品牌,專營手機充電器、PDA外接網卡裝置等配件;一人在台灣、中國大陸採買零件、監督製造,另一人則負責歐洲的全球經銷,同時也承接大廠的OEM訂單。

「當時重心多放在OEM代工上,訂單應接不暇,『Just Mobile』也以自有品牌行銷,但只是個logo而已,」黃趙光說。

但隨著多功能智慧型手機崛起,取代部分配件功能,國際手機大廠之間,也因競爭加劇,為拓展利潤,紛紛以大廠氣勢規模,一舉包下配件市場,代工版圖重新洗牌,唯光科技也開始思索退出轉型之路。

黃趙光相中蘋果愛好者講究設計、重質感的特點,加上iPhone熱潮持續蔓延擴散,不見退燒跡象,直覺「蘋果是門好生意」,決定以iPhone周邊配件為轉型起點。

首創支架地位

問題是蘋果配件品項種類繁多:電池、充電器、保護套、螢幕貼……第一步要從何處下手?

唯光科技決定採用藍海戰略,不加入因利年輕有活力的唯光科技團隊,以台中總部為基地,攻下全球市場。潤高,已殺得眼紅的保護套、螢幕貼戰場,另闢蹊徑製作一款iPhone專用支架。支架採用蘋果Mac電腦的設計語彙,俐落造型、鋁合金材質,並加上可旋轉為水平或垂直的功能,取其X字型外觀,命名為「Xtand」,是全球第一支專門為iPhone 打造的支架。

開發量產後,唯光科技主動將產品送往美國最具公信力的蘋果產品評比網站「iLounge」,探詢專業意見,過了幾天,負責評比的網站編輯給了一個頗為矛盾的評語:論功能、質感,Xtand幾乎無可挑剔,但是除了店家展示需求,一般消費者使用支架機率不高,直言:「這是一款看不到未來的商品」。

大出意料之外的是,蘋果迷反應熱烈,認為其樣式質感十分對味,唯光便趁勝追擊,推出供蘋果筆記型電腦Mac Book使用的「Xtand Pro」,於是從紐約第五大道的蘋果旗鑑店,到倫敦柯芬園的歐洲總部,蘋果公司「自己人」也紛紛下單訂購,更有十多家廠商追隨仿傚,投入支架戰場,iLounge網站也改口稱之:「Just Mobile創造了『支架』的配件品項。」

丹麥大師出手

接下來與丹麥最炙手可熱、得獎無數的設計團隊「Tools Design」合作,更加奠定Just Mobile的北歐美學形象。

2008年,黃趙光參加台灣創意中心舉辦的北歐設計產業參訪團,看見「Tools Design」為當地餐廚品牌「Eva Solo」設計的系列商品,驚豔於日常生活的鍋碗瓢盆也能實用美感兼具,十分心動,返台後立刻向Tools Design提出合作邀約。

Tools Design慨然允諾,也樂意挑戰未接觸過的iPhone周邊領域,接連合作車用支架、滑鼠墊等產品後,2010年設計的觸控筆「AluPen」,更成為Just Mobile另一項明星商品。

以兒時使用的六角鉛筆為靈感,全鋁質材打造,軟性橡膠筆尖,考量握感與比例而衍生的粗短外型,模樣討喜,AluPen上市第一季後,全球大賣超過10萬支,讓消費者直呼缺貨買不到,更在不到兩個月內即出現大陸山寨版,企圖混淆市場,Just Mobile則加強外盒包裝標示以正視聽。

在移往中國製造加工已成普遍現象時,Just Mobile卻是少數100%台灣製造的配件品牌。「台灣廠商重信譽、品質好,即使成本略高也絕對值得,」黃趙光信心滿滿說道。

由他親自設計研發,為Just Mobile奪下首座iF大獎的筆電散熱棒「Cooling Bar」為例,要讓一根鋁棒墊高筆電,又不輕易滑動,得歷經切削、洗溝、鑽切等多道工法。

另外由Tools Design設計的「Alupad」滑鼠墊,看似平凡無奇,不過是一塊包裹著塑膠的鋁片,製程卻是大有學問。鋁片裁切後需以塑膠射出包覆成型,但冷卻的力道卻會讓鋁片彎曲,因此機器溫度、冷卻速度、製具輔助等關鍵因素缺一不可,相異材質才能結合得天衣無縫。其次,還得拿捏外層塑膠厚度,不能影響滑鼠感應,這些都十分仰賴台灣廠商的經驗與工藝。

獎項是一種國際語言

以「平價奢華」為定位,Just Mobile轉型設計路線三年多,已廣泛打進歐洲市場,在德、法、英、義大利等地,都是小有名氣的周邊品牌。

「只要設計到位,後續一切好辦!」黃趙光說,包括老字號的美國蘋果雜誌「Mac World」、「Mac Life」在內,Just Mobile產品幾乎已登上全世界的蘋果相關雜誌、網站,更開始有一群自己的品牌粉絲,三不五時寫信來關切新品何時上市。

Tools Design設計的iPad鋁製置放架「Slide」,今年也在德國紅點設計獎中,擊敗四千多名參賽者,奪下僅有59個名額的「Best of Best」獎項。

Just Mobile迄今已有 15項產品上市,累計大小獎項不斷,光是國際設計競賽、蘋果媒體年度選拔,就有五十多座獎項紀錄,成績亮眼。笑稱「得獎像在集郵」的黃趙光說,獎項是一種國際語言,可以吸引代理商及媒體目光,要再繼續透過設計加持,攻占全球蘋果迷的心。

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近期文章

EN

The Hybrid Power of Scandinavian Style: Just Mobile

Wang Wan-chia /photos courtesy of Lan Chun-hsiao /tr. by Scott Williams

The fascination with Apple products has become a veritable whirlwind sweeping the globe. The iPhone has sold more than 100 million units in its five years on the market, and the iPad has clocked sales of 15 million units in just one year. As such, the business opportunities in Apple accessories are enormous. With those opportunities firmly in mind, Taichung-based Just Mobile is employing a version of the blue ocean strategy, working with inter-national-class design teams to hack out its own thick wedge of the Apple accessories pie.


At January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, New York-based artist David Kassan amazed attendees by creating color portraits using an iPad and a stylus.

Meanwhile, Apple-related booths all over the exhibition floor utilized X-shaped iPhone display stands in an effort to attract consumer attention.

AluPen and Xtand, a stylus and stand, stood out from the crowd with their simple designs and environ-mentally friendly aluminum-alloy construction. Both are made by a German-Taiwanese hybrid called Just Mobile.

Apple is good business

In business for seven years, Just Mobile was an OEM manufacturer before getting into Apple accessories.

Just Mobile owner Erich Huang recalls that he decided to leave Taipei and go back to central Taiwan to work just as his friend Nils Gustafsson, who was based in Germany, was looking for someone to help him with purchasing.

One international phone call later, the two men had decided to go into business together, establishing the Just Mobile brand in 2005 to make cellphone chargers and network cards for PDAs. While Huang scoured Taiwan and mainland China for components and oversaw manufacturing, Gustafsson handled European sales and processed OEM orders from major manufacturers.

"In those days, we were mostly focused on our OEM business," says Huang. "We could barely keep up with the orders. We were also selling under our own Just Mobile label, but the brand was little more than a name."

But with the rise of multifunctional smartphones, the need for some hardware accessories declined. At the same time, increasingly intense competition among major cellphone makers encouraged them to use their scale to move into and dominate the accessories market to boost their own profits. With OEMs getting squeezed out, Just Mobile began thinking about new directions for its business.

Huang decided to target fans of Apple products, consumers who are known for their appreciation of good design and high-quality manufacturing. He figured that these traits and the burgeoning of iPhone fever made iPhone accessories a good bet.

Stands

The problem was that there were already so many Apple accessories: batteries, chargers, cases, screen protectors. Where was Just Mobile to begin?

The company decided to go with a "blue ocean" strategy. Instead of diving into the brutal competition in the high-margin cover and screen-protector markets, they would take a different route, producing dedicated iPhone stands. Featuring fluid forms and aluminum construction, Just Mobile's stands can be set up either horizontally or vertically, and echo the design vocabulary of the Mac. Taking their name, the "Xtand," from their X shape, they created the first stands in the world designed exclusively for iPhones.

Once the company went into production, it sent samples to one of the US's most trusted reviewers of Apple products-iLounge-for an expert opinion. A few days later, the editor reviewing the product posted an odd review. While stating that the Xtand was beyond reproach in terms of quality and functionality, he noted that few consumers used stands and that "The 'stand' is a dying breed of accessory."

Much to Just Mobile's surprise, Apple fans embraced the product enthusiastically, finding it perfectly to their taste. The company immediately introduced a follow-up product, the Xtand Pro for MacBooks. Soon, Apple employees in the company's flagship Fifth Avenue store and Covent Garden European headquarters were placing orders, and dozens of companies were leaping into the emerging stand wars. The product's popularity even caused iLounge to change its tune and acknowledge that Just Mobile's stand was a must-have accessory.

Danish design team

Just Mobile then partnered with the renowned Danish design house Tools Design to further burnish its "Scandinavian aesthetic."

Huang had taken part in a Scandinavian design industry tour organized by the Taiwan Design Center in 2008. Impressed with Tools Design's application of a refined aesthetic sensibility to one of Eva Solo's lines of kitchenware, he drafted a cooperation proposal the moment he got back to Taiwan.

Tools Design agreed and enthusiastically began work on iPhone accessories, relishing the challenge of what was to it a new product category. After designing a mount for use in automobiles and a mouse pad, it introduced the AluPen stylus in 2010, providing Just Mobile with yet another star product.

Inspired by the six-sided wooden pencil, the aluminum-bodied, rubber-nibbed stylus was designed to be a bit chunky so it would feel better in the hand. Global sales exceeded 100,000 units in its first quarter on the market, and some would-be buyers found it impossible to get their hands on one. Mainland Chinese knock-offs hit the market within two months of the AluPen's introduction, prompting Just Mobile to make the brand labeling on their packaging more prominent, to avoid confusion.

In an age when manufacturing products in China is standard practice, Just Mobile continues to produce its accessories entirely in Taiwan. "Taiwanese manufacturers value their reputations and quality," explains Huang. "They may be a little more expensive, but they're absolutely worth it."

Take the Cooling Bar, for example. Huang himself designed and developed the product, an iF prize winner, to elevate the back of a laptop. Ensuring that the bar doesn't slide while in use requires meticulous manufacturing.

Or take Tools Design's Alupad mouse pad. While it looks rather plain, the pad actually consists of a plastic-wrapped aluminum slab that is difficult to produce. Once the aluminum is trimmed, it is covered in plastic by means of injection molding. But aluminum can warp when cooling, making exact control of the machine temperature, rate of cooling, and other aspects of the production process crucial to producing a seamless finish.

Awards an international language

Just Mobile, which aims to deliver luxury at an affordable price, has managed to make inroads into the European market after just three years in the design business. In fact, the brand has earned a solid reputation as an accessories maker in Germany, France, the UK and Italy.

"If you get the design right, everything else is relatively easy," says Huang, noting that Just Mobile products have appeared in Apple-related publications and websites around the world, including Macworld and MacLife.

A recent Tools Design creation, an aluminum iPad stand known as the Slide, recently beat out more than 4,000 other products to win one of this year's 59 red dot "Best of Best" prizes.

Just Mobile currently has 15 products on the market and a mounting pile of awards that includes more than 50 prizes from international design competitions and Apple-related media. Huang, who jokes that winning prizes is like collecting stamps, says that awards are an international language that attracts the attention of dealers and the media. Moving forward, Just Mobile will have to continue to take advantage of its top-notch design to consolidate its claim on the hearts and minds of Apple enthusiasts.

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