iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases | iLounge Article


iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases

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A Few Words on Protection Versus, or Alongside, Decoration

Designers of iPod and iPhone cases and films have historically been comprised of three camps: those who are focused on protecting Apple’s devices, those who focus on decorating Apple’s devices, and those who design cases to do both. There have been noteworthy, extreme examples of all three of these approaches, which are worth briefly mentioning up front.

The first iPod cases—ones released by Apple and early case developers—were clearly focused far more on protection than decoration. Companies such as Matias made their names in the iPod business selling tank tread-proof metal iPod coffins that weren’t convenient for iPod control access, but enabled the devices inside to withstand virtually anything. Other companies, including Apple, came up with extremely simple leather and fabric sleeves that did nothing more than cover most of the device’s scratchable surfaces.


Over time, a few developers went in a completely different direction, coming up with “cases” that offered little to no protection, and were instead designed to get attention for either their owners or developers. One company released iPod thongs. Another released stupid iPod costumes. We opted not to cover most of these releases when it became obvious that their developers were trying to make a fast buck off of the rapidly growing iPod market, and thankfully, they mostly disappeared by the time of the iPhone’s release. Occasionally, similarly decorative-only cases still emerge, but they’re generally ignored; artistic stickers, and more sophisticated cases, are clearly more popular.


“More sophisticated cases” are those that effectively combine both protection and good looks in a single, affordable package. Some companies strive for clean, neutral looks that match Apple’s designs; Incase and Power Support are notable examples. Other companies, such as Belkin, iSkin, and Speck, generally go for bolder looking designs, and still others, such as Contour Design, Griffin Technology, Incipio, Marware, and SwitchEasy, offer a mix of cases that vary from neutral to bold.


While these cases vary widely in looks—each company has its own sense of what it likes, and what it thinks will appeal visually to customers—they generally have a lot in common when it comes to protection. Why? After experiments with decorative, semi-protective designs, most companies have found that customers aren’t buying cases to turn their iPods or iPhones into dolls; they want products that will keep their trusted media players and phones safe from certain common types of harm. Apart from making the cases look nice, then, the questions faced by most designers are simple: how much of the iPod or iPhone should be protected, and then, how?

The next several sections of this article answer those questions thusly: as much as possible, except for very small and specific exceptions, and—no surprise—with a combination of smart materials and precise tailoring.


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That was quite an in depth look at case design.  I tend to agree that it is a very important topic. 

I have yet to find the “perfect” case for any of my three iPod devices but have at least found ones that meet most of my needs.  I do realize though that each person has their own needs which might make my “perfect case” not the same as the next person’s.  Since I use my iPods on speaker docks at work and home more than with headphones I have needed to slide them out of cases on a regular basis, this becomes a bigger issue for me as well.

I’ve never been a fan of the rubbery/silicon cases for me since they don’t “slide” in and out of a pants pocket as easily as a harder plastic case and they also seem to stretch out over time and don’t fit as snugly as time goes by either.

For my 5G and 1G Nano I installed one of the original Invisible Shields - full body except I left the click wheel exposed since I never liked the feel of the material on the wheel itself.  Other than a little bunching at the rear corners - not as bad with those models as more tapered newer models might have now-a-days - the Invisible Shields have held up and protected my devices flawlessly.  My only complaint is that it adds a little bulk when I try to apply a “full body” case like the Contour Showcase and you get distortions on the screen.  I have kept both in leather wallet cases designs for protection while transporting and then just slide out to put into my speaker dock.

The original iPhone has been a bigger issue because I use it so much for so many different reasons.  I went with a full screen protection by Power Support (Home button exposed!) and then an Agent 18 Eco Shield which has served very well.  I wish it had a little more styling, but it does the job.

Unfortunately since the 3G has come out it is much harder to find a new case for the original version since there is a more limited, non-expanding market.  I wonder if the “next” iPhone will have a new form factor therefore making all the current cases once again obsolete?  If past practices are any indication I am sure Apple will subtly change the specs necessitating totally new cases and then placing all the 3G owners in the same shoes as me!

Posted by TosaDeac in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 16, 2009 at 5:13 PM (CST)


Very comprehensive look at an underrated subject area. I always end up with at least one of each generation of iPod and now iPhone and finding a case that does the product justice - designed with the same care over form and function - is a real challenge. For me, I don’t like cases that focus on protection to such an extend that my superbly designed and made new iPod/iPhone looks like a £10 piece of tat covered in cheapo plastic, rubber or fabric. Not a good look. But it has to work; i have a very expensive Dunhill leather case with belt clip bought for a 3rd gen iPod with click wheel, still doing sterling service with a new Classic years later. Sadly, I have yet to find an iPhone case that meets my requirements for protection and minimal impact on the device’s handling and looks. One must exist somewhere ...

Posted by drevo_uk in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 19, 2009 at 1:51 PM (CST)


does anybody know what xase that is for the iphone on the very first picture in the top right??thanks!

Posted by Jonathan in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 21, 2009 at 10:26 AM (CST)


I haven’t found the “perfect” case for any of my iPods, I usually settle with hard plastic cases for each of my click wheel based iPods. Before my iPod touch came in the post a couple months ago, I was looking around for a good hard case and a friend referred me to Best Skins Ever. I purchased a full body shield for my iPod touch, and it’s better than any sort of case in my opinion. :) Each new iPod I get is going to get it’s own Best Skins Ever.

Posted by Cody in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 22, 2009 at 4:28 PM (CST)


I’ve always relied on the MASSIVELY DETAILED reviews you guys do on protection for my beloved Apple products.

I hope you guys still provide the same type of coverage I’ve been able to count on in the past when it comes to researching my next case for whatever new shiny toy I have.

Thanks for doing such a great job!

Posted by SadIloungeReader in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 28, 2009 at 12:27 AM (CST)

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