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.
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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- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 3: On Changes, Innovation, and the Future
- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 2: On Apple Design Specifics
- Apple Case Design in 2013, Part 1: On Protection + Priorities
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