Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 2: On Apple Design Specifics | iLounge Article

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Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 2: On Apple Design Specifics

According to internal Apple research that was publicized last year, roughly 80% of iPhone owners use cases to protect their devices, and obviously iPod and iPad cases are popular, too. iLounge recently reached out to some of the biggest case designers in the industry to gather their thoughts on various aspects of case design. Here’s part two of our three-part series on the state of Apple case design in 2013, focusing on how developers accommodate Apple’s published case design recommendations; part one can be found here, and discusses developers’ priorities and general standards for protection.

iLounge: Why do some cases have such huge holes around the rear camera?

Michael Pizzimenti, Director of Sales & Marketing, X-Doria: When the iPhone 4 was first launched with the flash, a lot of cases had small openings that caused photo issues due to reflection and discoloring. A larger camera hole opening will insure that the photo you take remains clean and crisp. Additionally, a lot of cases use a black ring around the opening to make extra sure that flash reflections do not pose an issue.

Jay Jun, Marketing Associate, Spigen: We choose to keep it as close to the camera shape as possible. We know of Apple’s specifications regarding the recommended camera cutout, but after R&D testing we’ve concluded that the camera quality is unobstructed as long as we used a black ring inside the cut-out. We take a lot of pride in our ability to complement the original design of the device and would never cut a bigger hole than necessary.

Brian Thomas, President and CEO, Otterbox: With the quality of smartphone cameras rivaling those of pocketable point-and-shoot cameras, we do our absolute best to ensure that we don’t hinder the phone’s ability to take a great picture; there is a delicate balance between protection and function that needs to be achieved. We take into account the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the camera and the flash, but we also do our own internal testing and work with external testing resources to ensure quality photos in all lighting conditions.

Bryan Hynecek, VP of Design, Speck: Design of the camera hole on Speck cases is all about enabling the best photos possible. The size and our black interior band reduces glare and prevents any capture of the color of the case.

Steve Bau, Managing Director, SwitchEasy: There is nothing worse than taking a picture of an unforgettable moment, and there is a flare from the flash or a rim of the case is in that picture. That is the reason why most of the me-too companies follow the safe route and over-dimension the camera hole. For aesthetic reasons, SwitchEasy likes to minimize the size of the camera holes. Understanding the problems described above, our R&D department spends a lot of time and effort to test different shapes and finishes to optimize the functionality.

iLounge: Apple specifies an open “keepout area” for Lightning connector in its iPod, iPhone, and iPad dimensional drawings, but the area is way smaller than is needed for speakers with Lightning docks. How much of a challenge is accessory compatibility when you’re creating cases?

X-Doria: Maintaining the phone’s full functional use is one of the most important things we do with case design. Anything that hinders that experience is a reflection on the case, not the phone. Therefore, we start all design by understanding how the device is going to be used on a daily basis. While it is challenging to design, understanding this before beginning the work definitely makes things simpler.

Barry Sween, Design Director, Belkin: We try whenever possible to accommodate for dock connection. With hard shell cases this is usually not a problem because they are strong enough to stay attached firmly, even with a large opening. Sometimes, to gain the advantages of softer, more hand friendly and tactile case materials, making a large dock connector opening would mean limiting the structural integrity of the case. That means we have to make a compromise, and we usually feel that everyday comfort and protection is the most important consideration.

Otterbox: At OtterBox, we always engineer the cases for compatibility with OEM-included accessories. While we can’t always ensure compatibility with third-party accessories, we do always open up connector and headphone ports as large as the design will allow without hindering protection in an attempt to accommodate the wide variety of accessories out there. Likewise, new accessories are always becoming available. We do our best to listen to customer comments and try to incorporate their feedback into designs. 

Doug Broadhurst, Marketing Manager, Scosche: We recognize that most consumers will need to connect their device when the case is installed, so we do our best to keep these areas as open as possible without compromising the case’s structural integrity.

SwitchEasy: At SwitchEasy, we like to make our case designs use case specific. And in any case, we need to keep in account the mobile device we make the case for and its dedicated charging connector such as the iPhone 5 and the Lightning connector. But for a value-driven brand like ours, it depends on the use case whether we decide to keep in account the hundreds of external products that are available on the market; a minimal and functional product like our Nude will have a lot more compatibility than a Monsters or a Bonds case, as their primary design objective is not compatibility, but protection and identity.

Coming tomorrow, part three discusses innovation and future trends in case design. Part one on design priorities and protection is here.

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