The just-announced OtterBox cactus leather iPhone cases will give buyers the option to wrap their handset in a plant-based material rather than traditional leather. I got my hands on a pre-release case and found the cactus-based material to be somewhat similar to cow leather but not identical.
Here’s why I’m optimistic about OtterBox Symmetry Series Cactus Leather iPhone cases that are scheduled to launch in spring 2024. Update: And now we have pricing info!
So … cactus leather?
Most iPhone cases are made with some variety of plastic, but premium ones are generally cow leather. Many people are uncomfortable with animal products so case-makers are looking for alternative materials.
Apple stopped offering traditional leather cases in fall 2023, switching to a polyester-based microtwill called FineWoven. Responses were generally negative, though there are fans of the material, too.
OtterBox, a premium maker of iPhone cases, is going in a different direction. “We’ve teamed up with Adriano di Marti to source this innovative cactus-based biomaterial that is durable, beautiful and sustainable to create a product unlike any other for both brands,” said OtterBox CEO JC Richardson.
The company promises the material is “highly sustainable and environmentally friendly,” and is made from Nopal cactus. It’s already used in shoes, purses and other clothing.
OtterBox sent me a prerelease sample of the iPhone 15 Pro Max case made with Desserto for testing.
Hands on with OtterBox Symmetry Series Cactus Leather iPhone cases
The OtterBox case wrapped in cactus skin looks much like cow leather. It has a pebbly exterior that resembles the traditional material. If you want something that looks like leather, this passes the test.
And it seems durable enough stand up to daily life. My preliminary testing finds that it does not scratch easily and stands up to bumps and blows without a blemish. I deliberately used it with greasy fingers and the case washed up perfectly.
OtterBox is known for its tough cases, and the Symmetry Series models made with Desserto will have a 3X MIL-STD drop protection rating.
While all that’s positive, cactus leather doesn’t feel like my Mujjo leather iPhone case. It’s not as smooth, with a somewhat rougher texture. Traditional leather can be made in a variety of textures, but Desserto is more pebbled than any I’ve seen. Still, you can look on that as an advantage, as the case is less likely to slip out of one’s hand.
That said, the OtterBox Symmetry Series Cactus Leather iPhone case I’m testing is a prototype sample and the final product might be different. OtterBox told me, “The look will be the same, but the tactile experience will shift a little bit between now and the Spring 2024 launch. As this is a new formulation of the Desserto material, it is being optimized to meet the OtterBox case form-factor for production.”
My sample is black. The plant-based cases will also come in brown, green and purple options.
It’s an iPhone case
The only innovative aspect of the OtterBox cases is the material they’re covered in. Aside from that, these will be standard Symmetry Series iPhone cases.
And that’s a good thing. These are well designed cases that offer a balance of protection for the expensive handset without adding too much bulk.
The design surrounds the iPhone leaving only the screen exposed, though there are openings for the camera hump, USB-C/Lightning port, speakers, etc. The buttons have covers, and the interior is lined with a soft material so it won’t scratch the handset.
The Symmetry Series is MagSafe compatible so you can wirelessly charge your iPhone without removing it from the case.
Cactus leather iPhone cases are environmentally friendly
OtterBox touts the sustainability of cactus leather.
“Nopal cacti are able to thrive in harsh conditions and do not need irrigation or constantly warm weather,” the company bragged. “The cacti support a biodiverse ecosystem and the Desserto farm sequesters substantially more CO2 than the farming process produces. Plus, only mature leaves are harvested, allowing for regrowth of the cactus to be harvested again in six to eight months.”
Which is great, but the chassis of the iPhone case is plastic. The cactus leather goes on top of that.
Desserto versus FineWoven
Because Apple replaced its leather cases with FineWoven ones, and Desserto is also a cow leather alternative, a comparison of the two might seem logical. But cactus leather bears no resemblance to FineWoven whatsoever.
Apple’s option is a type of high-end cloth. It’s described as having a “suedelike” feel, but it’s definitely not suede.
In contrast, OtterBox will offer cases in a vegan form of leather. Desserto looks like cow leather and — somewhat — feels like leather.
OtterBox Symmetry Series Cactus Leather iPhone cases preliminary conclusion
It’s early days yet — I’ve only used a prototype — but OtterBox seems to have made the right decision to go with cactus leather. It’s good-looking and durable while also being cruelty-free and sustainable.
And the material is going into more than cases. It’ll also be made into Apple Watch bands and MagSafe wallets.
OtterBox did not initially reveal pricing for the OtterBox Symmetry Series Cactus Leather iPhone cases, but on Thursday told Cult of Mac that the products will cost $59.95. The company also said there’d be versions for the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max but no earlier models.
As for a release date, at this point, the accessory-maker has only said the new cases will launch in spring 2024.
Buy it from: OtterBox
As for the other accessories, Wallet for MagSafe Cactus Leather will sell for $49.95, while Watch Band Cactus Leather will be $39.95.