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Otterbox's New Case Lets You Swap in iPhone Superpowers

Modular phones like the LG G5 and Google's upcoming Project Ara that let you swap in different parts at will are giving smartphone owners greater flexibility. Why shouldn't the cases protecting those phones offer the same ability to customize what your device can do?

That's the allure of Otterbox's latest case for the iPhone. The case maker's new Universe Case System features a protective case that lets you swap in different modules — a camera attachment here, a credit card reader there -- so that your phone can add different functions while still remaining buffeted from life's bumps and bruises.

Otterbox's Universe case comes in a $50 version for the iPhone 6 and 6s; there's also a $60 version for the larger iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus. Otterbox says it's focusing on the iPhone version of the product at the moment, but eventually wants to expand the lineup to other phones as well.

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Accessory makers will have to build modules specifically for Otterbox's Universe Case System, but the case arrives with eight partners offering a total of 15 modules. Square offers a $50 credit card and contactless payment reader for the case while Olloclip's $80 add-on provides a 4-in-1 lens kit for iPhone photographers.

Potential modules available at

Potential modules available at

PolarPro makes seven different modules for Otterbox's cases, from a $50 tripod to a $60 mobile speaker. Modules from other accessory makers include a Wi-Fi signal booster, thermal camera and barcode scanner. Otterbox offers a complete list at its website.

A lot of protective cases make you choose between keeping your phone safe and sound or attaching an accessory like a camera lens or battery pack. Otterbox wants to eliminate that choice with the Universe Case System. The case itself uses a rail system for attaching accessories, with an accent plate covering that rail when it's not in use. Otterbox says that some accessories built for the Universe case will be able to attach with a grooved edge inside the opening for your iPhone's camera.

Otterbox's modular case arrives as phone makers are trying their hand at swappable parts for their devices. LG's G5 launched earlier this year with a camera module offering dedicated buttons. Google's recent developer conference featured an update on Project Ara, Google's own effort to build a modular phone; the first Project Ara phone is expected to reach consumers next year.