iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases

iDesign: The Art of Designing Great iPod and iPhone Cases 1

Past editions of our iDesign series were created to share the storied history of iPod and iPhone product industrial design with all of our readers. This edition, our first of 2009, is different. It was primarily written for a specific audience: iPod and iPhone case developers.

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Over the past couple of years, our readers have increasingly suggested that they’re tired of the endless stream of news about iPod and iPhone cases—some have even suggested that cases have become passe. Other readers, and our editors, have a different view: cases and more recent full body films are extremely useful, but there are too many of them for the average person to care about. Everyone knows that unprotected iPods and iPhones get beat up by scratches and drops, but the choice of protection is personal, and cases probably don’t require extensive reviews.


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Or do they? Some readers and many case developers have told us that they really appreciate the details and pointers our case reviews include, because we help them develop better products that are more in touch with consumers’ needs, and often identify issues that even they’d missed. For obvious reasons, vendors aren’t always thrilled with our pointed critiques, but most understand that we have our readers’ best interests at heart, as well as access to an unparalleled collection of past, present, and even future cases for comparison. Our case reviews shouldn’t totally go away, then, right?


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As we start this new year, we’ve decided that we’re still going to cover iPod and iPhone cases, but our coverage is going to be different. With this edition of iDesign, and a subsequent version that will be shortened and tailored for our readers rather than the industry as a whole, we are setting out a concrete, detailed list of case design best practices that we have seen over the years. Our goal is to put every company and every case designer on the same page regarding what has worked, and not worked, in touchscreen, Click Wheel, and screenless iPod case design. From now on, rather than enumerating all of the nuts and bolts in lengthy reviews, case reviews will simply point to the list and lets readers and developers know what we’ve been looking for. And if by some chance a radically new iPod or iPhone interface design emerges, we’ll update the big articles to reflect the best practices for that design.


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Our iDesign article on the art of designing great iPod and iPhone cases begins with a discussion of protection and decoration, then looks at cases for Click Wheel iPods, continues on to touchscreen iPods and iPhones, the screenless iPod shuffle, and finally recent body films, each in their own separate sections. Use the page number buttons (or, soon, the pulldown menu) here to see all of the sections, which we’ve illustrated with representative photographs. As with past editions of iDesign, we hope that you enjoy and learn something useful from this article.

  1. 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!

  2. 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 …

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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