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

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iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases

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Full Body Film as Case Alternative

In recent years, cases have seen aggressive competition from a new alternative: full body film. Starting with ZAGG’s InvisibleShield, and notably continuing to NLU Products’ BodyGuardz, a number of companies have released transparent, adhesive protectors made from materials that were previously used to protect helicopter blades or car bodies. We have been enthusiastic about these film solutions, as they offer the key benefit of case coverage—anti-scratch protection—in a super-thin form factor, at prices comparable to inexpensive cases, and with tremendous accessory compatibility. With only rare exceptions, an iPod or iPhone wrapped in clear body film will fit in every dock, connect to every cable, work with every pair of headphones, and look virtually identical to the way it began. The only difference: the device will appear to be wrapped in a thin layer of plastic. Some users don’t mind this; others do.

 

The challenges common to most of these films are three in number: first is the material. Different full body film companies have chosen different supposedly “completely clear” or “invisible” solutions, but none of the film is actually 100% transparent. InvisibleShields are made from a material that tends to have a noticeably wavy texture and can yellow over time. NLU’s material doesn’t yellow and has a less pronounced texture, but it’s still not perfect, and the company is more skittish about completely covering devices. For iPhones and iPod touches, we have found that a combination of NLU rear film and truly clear or anti-glare face film does the best job of protecting and providing uninhibited screen enjoyment; a small company called Full Body Films offers this combination. Note that most of the materials used for these films are adhesive and require both wetting and a sure hand for installation; improvements could and should be made in this process.

 

A second concern is tailoring. Due to the ever-evolving shapes of iPod and iPhone models, properly covering them with one or two sheets of film requires a designer to make extremely smart, precise cuts that will let the film be easy for a user to install, then yield comprehensive protection after the film has dried. Unfortunately, we have seen considerable evidence that some film makers are rushing to get film on the market on the day or first week of a new iPod’s or iPhone’s launch, and do only a decent job of tailoring in order to satisfy initial customers. Only later do they fix their designs so that later customers don’t have the same problems with loose or uncovered corners; sometimes, these issues never get completely fixed at all. Buyers of cases may, under some circumstances, wind up with both a superior scope of protection and the benefits of greater anti-drop protection, as well.

 

The final concern is pricing. Certain vendors of clear body film have commented that the film is far more expensive than consumers appreciate, and that their reasonable profit margins require certain price levels competitive with more protective cases. Other vendors offer twice the film in the same package for the same price, or use lower prices as an enticement, instead. Readers and users have made clear to us that film pricing strikes them as out of balance relative to case pricing; this issue has yet to be properly resolved.

Conclusions

While it may not be easy to design a truly fantastic iPod or iPhone case, it’s not impossible, either: thanks to the work of hundreds of talented designers over the past seven and a half years, cases have evolved from simple and inconvenient sleeves or boxes into more elegant, practical forms that emphasize ease-of-use, smarter manufacturing techniques, and user comfort.

Going forward, iLounge plans to continue to offer images and ratings of cases, the latter based heavily upon each product’s adherence to the best practices noted in this article. Every developer will have its own take on the correct balance of protection, aesthetics, complexity, quality, and pricing; we look forward to seeing and documenting the variety of options that iPod and iPhone users will have in the future.

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Comments

401

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 on January 16, 2009 at 5:13 PM (CST)

402

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 UK on January 19, 2009 at 1:51 PM (CST)

403

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

Posted by Jonathan on January 21, 2009 at 10:26 AM (CST)

404

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 on January 22, 2009 at 4:28 PM (CST)

405

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 on January 28, 2009 at 12:27 AM (CST)

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