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Despite past failures, case makers place early bet on Apple 'iPhone 6c'

Rearth case rendering for an "iPhone 6c," via MobileFun

Being among the first to offer cases for a new iPhone is a multi-million dollar business opportunity that leaves manufacturers racing to prepare updated models based on rumors and hearsay — a move that can easily backfire.

Apple is likely to unveil a new 4-inch iPhone in 2016; this is a point of near universal agreement. The rumor mill is somewhat less united when it comes to the new handset's form factor.

Some believe the so-called "iPhone 6c" — or "iPhone 5se," depending who you ask — will resemble an iPhone 5s, while adopting the rounded glass found on the iPhone 6. This group notably includes well-connected Taiwanese analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

Others think the updated handset will effectively be a miniature iPhone 6, possibly standardizing the design of Apple's iPhone range for the first time in years.

As far as cases are concerned, the early money appears to be following the iPhone 6 trail. Rearth USA has shown off renders of a new case designed for a 4-inch iPhone 6c, and while they are available for preorder it's not clear if the company has actually committed to tooling up for production.

Accessory makers have lost out in the past by betting on form factors that never saw the light of day, making this a risky proposition. In 2011, Hard Candy ordered $50,000 worth of production molds based on a rumored teardrop design for the device that would eventually become the quite rectilinear iPhone 4s.

Case-Mate likewise prepped for an iPhone 4s with a "completely different form factor" and "extended home button" at the same time, though it's unknown if that company followed through with the same tooling orders as its competition.