An iPad and iPhone case designed by Marc Jacobs, which is currently… (Handout photo, Handout…)
Soon after Rob Morton bought his iPad 2, he started scouring the Web for a customized case — something to keep his new tablet protected and personalized.
Morton needed to pimp his iPad.
Bland, standardized covers were out of the question. Morton, a professional photographer, asked a friend to design a brown alligator-skin cover, complete with an inside pocket made of bronze-dyed cowhide.
"I wanted something really stylish," said Morton, who is 39 and lives in White Marsh. "I know it's different and something that you've never seen."
Tablets such as iPads, Kindles and Samsung Galaxies are some of the season's hottest gifts. And smartphones such as iPhones and Androids are soaring in popularity: 83 percent of American adults now have cellphones, of which 42 percent are smartphones, according to a May study by the Pew Research Center. And in recent years, a number of companies have begun selling accessories for them.
Whether it be brightly colored protective tablet jackets, a haute-couture fashion designer cover for smartphones or even blinged-out ear buds for MP3 players, there are plenty of options to help your gizmo stand out.
"People like to accessorize," said John Roscoe Swartz, co-founder and CEO of BUILT, a New York-based company that makes covers and bags for items including laptops, iPads and cameras. The company has been featured in People, In Touch and The New York Times.
"The key psychology behind it is making it 'mine' and making it unique," Swartz said. "There were millions of iPads sold this year. Customers want to know that theirs is unique. Accessorizing means that they are modern and they are looking for smart … solutions for their product."
M-Edge, an Odenton-based company, specializes in protective covers for hand-held devices. The company's line of products for electronic readers, which debuted in 2006, was among the first wave of such accessories.
A year later, when Oprah Winfrey named the Kindle one of her favorite gifts for the holidays, M-Edge sold out its covers. When the iPad was introduced, the company was more prepared.
"We had a leg up," said chief technology officer Adam Ashley. "We knew people would be reading with this tablet."
The company worked with two fashion designers to incorporate current and future trends through its designs.
"We are taking inspiration from Paris, Hong Kong and New York," Ashley said.
For example, the "Camden" jacket, a polished, distressed-leather case, is influenced by grunge and punk fashions. The company's new line of products this spring will feature bright neon colors.
The company plans to unveil a new line of smartphone covers this January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"We'll have three to four new designs and a couple more surprises," Ashley said.
There is even an accessories market for tiny handheld musical devices. The Pleasure of Your Company, a stationery and gift store at Green Spring Station, sells floral-patterned speakers for MP3 players and iPods by Eco Speakers. The $22.50 accessory — made from recycled cardboard — has been popular for the past several months, according to Hannah Rodewald, the store's owner.
"They really took off," Rodewald said. "Part of it is that some of the older people who buy the gifts understand them better. They feel more confident buying this for a tween or teen. The confidence has grown. More people have these devices now. They understand what the accessories are about."
Cellphones were the first handheld devices to be accessorized. First, dangling charms were the craze. Then there was more of a focus on the case itself. Fashion designers such as Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade and Michael Kors have all designed cellphone covers. Jacobs' iPod and iPhone covers — they're adorned with hot pink lips — are sold locally at South Moon Under stores.
Bayne Joyes, head bartender at 13.5 wine bar in Hampden, wanted to incorporate the art from a friend, Vaughn Belak of Orlando, Fla., on the case of his iPhone 4. He used the online retailer Zazzle.com to transfer the image of Belak's painting of a red devil onto a protective cover. The entire process, including shipping, cost $40.
"I'm different," Joyes said. "And I wanted to support a good friend of mine."
Justin Whye, a graphics artist from Northeast Baltimore, says he's stopped by people asking about his violet and turquoise iPhone 4S case by Otter Box. The $50 case is made of a turquoise shell that flashes through exposed sections of a violet skin.
"I'm not sure if it's just the color or what, but something about this little bit of protective goodness gets folks all happy," he said.
Whye got the cover from an AT&T store.
"I definitely wanted something that looked nice and was eye-catching but wasn't too loud," he said. "I think the one I chose was all those things combined."
And then there are the bejeweled accessories.
Janai Keller has a multicolored pink rhinestone and pearl-covered case for her Sprint EVO Shift 4G cellphone.
"Pink is my favorite color, so I wanted something pink and sparkly," said Keller, who works as a sales associate at Party Dress in Fells Point. "I saw the case, and it stood out to me."
Morton, the photographer with the sleek alligator iPad case, didn't stop there. He also has a brown leather case adorned with white stitching for his iPod Touch, and his wife has a pink suede case for her iPod. He also plans to purchase a case that resembles a weathered hardback book for his MacBook. The accessory, made by Twelve South BookBook, costs $80.
"It is such a valuable piece of equipment," Morton explained. "I want it to look the part. You don't buy a Mercedes-Benz and put spare tires on it."