A Case Against iPhone Cases

There’re several issues with the design of iPhone 6/ 6+, but I believe there is a consensus that the most unacceptable flaw is the protruding camera lens. If you put an iPhone 6 on a flat surface, say, a desk, the camera and a part of the back panel will be constantly scratched.

Why on earth wound Jony Ive, VP Design of Apple, let this happen? He probably assumed that everyone is going to put a protective case on his or her iPhone. A case increases the thickness of an iPhone, which eliminates the issue that the camera lens juts out.

Well, God bless your soul, Jony.

Disclaimer: This is a discussion of aesthetics, which is believed by most people to be fundamentally subjective. To a certain level, I agree. It’s entirely up to you whether you prefer realism or impressionism. Nonetheless, if you firmly believe that the Daniel Craig in 2002  (left) is more aesthetically appealing than he is now (right), I think one may argue that certain aesthetics are superior than others. In another word, you have your liberty to declare that the Big Mac is your favorite, but it doesn’t make it actually taste better than a decent rib eye steak. 

A smartphone’s protective case, for the vast majority of the time, destroys the aesthetic of a phone.

1. In order to make sure that the phone itself functions normally, all cases need to have holes on them. A case can’t just block the camera or the ports. There is always a hole for the camera. One for the mute switch. One for the headphone jack. One for the 30-pin or the lighting port. One for the speaker. One for the microphone… And, if you have one those cases that even wraps the front of your phone, there are even holes for the front camera and all those sensors. However, a hole is fundamentally an inferiority of a design. A perfect rectangle almost always looks better than one with several dots on it. 

2. Another problem with holes is that, oftentimes, the color of the case doesn’t match the color of the phone. Wherever a hole exists, it creates a drastic, undesirable transition of color.

3. For the power button and volume buttons, some cases wrap those buttons. The result is that, when you press one of the buttons, the tactile feeling is never quite as good as without a case. It degrades from a metallic feeling to a rubber one. 

Or, some cases just leave holes for those buttons…

4. Without a case, I can simply use my finger to switch the mute switch (left), which is a delightful design. With a case, which create a little hole for the mute switch, I can’t reach the switch normally with my finger. Instead, I have to stick my nail into it to switch it (right), which makes a delightful design an annoying one. 

Also, the hole of the mute switch usually gathers dust. Nobody likes dust.

5. Metal and glass construct an iPhone. However, most protective cases are plastic. Here is one thing in industrial design, or just plainly common sense: If you want to manufacture anything that doesn’t look and feel cheap, you better not use plastic. It's especially egregious to wrap a polished metal and glass product in plastic. Imagine someone wearing a puff jacket over a three-piece suit.

6. Last but not least, some protective cases (or maybe most of them) simply have hideous designs. 

But, after all, you may ask "What if you drop your phone?" Well, here is the trade-off that everyone has to make all the time. For me, I'm not willing give up one of the best design in the world for just some degree of security. Even if you put a case on it, the screen gets cracked anyway, right? In case I do crack the screen, which happened once in my three years of use of iPhone 4S, I repaired it myself thanks to ifixit.com, and it was a heck lot of fun to disassemble an iPhone.

The bottom line is that try to appreciate (or criticize) the designs around you, and try not to annihilate good designs with plastic that has multiple holes on it.