Smartphone Cases, For or Against?

December 20th, 2012 12 Comments

Years ago, I remember a chat Paul (@ppedrazzi), Rich (@rmanalan), Anthony (@anthonyslai) and I had about smartphone cases. I was reminded of that discussion recently on a trip to HQ.

For some reason, there was a box full of freebie covers for various devices in the office, and I took this opportunity to quiz my colleagues about the same argument that the old ‘Lab had way back when.

I was mildly surprised that everyone valued device safety over the unadulterated form of the device. These are design-conscious folks too.

I suppose this utilitarian viewpoint makes sense. Drop a few bills on a smartphone or tablet, and you’ll feel protective of it.

For years, I covered my original iPhone with a case, and when I switched to the HTC EVO 4G, I added a rather chunky case to protect it, a retroactive move after I’d drop-kicked it accidentally after fumbling it out of my pocket, too little, too late.

At some point, probably swayed by that discussion we had and by the additional cost, I stopped buying cases. I carried the Nexus S without one, and yeah, it got dropped and scratched a little.

After recently getting a Nexus 4, which is a fantastic phone by the way, I’m faced with this question again: should I sully the beautiful device’s form to protect it?

I love design of all kinds, and it’s really a shame to hide the lines of a device like an iPhone or a Nexus 4. Of course, part of the beauty of these devices comes from glass, used liberally for the screen and aesthetic purposes. Nearly all of the Nexus 4 is glass, including the back, which I know will eventually be its undoing.

It’s an opinion, but cases tend to ruin the design lines and make devices more bulky. Again, all relative, but these devices are designed to be used as-is, not with a case. It’s possible I convinced myself that my old iPhone and EVO felt better without the cases, or maybe they really did, impossible to tell.

On the other hand, when presented with an object of considerable value, people are generally willing to spend a little on a case to avoid a costly repair or a constant reminder of how they failed to protect it.

A bit odd when contrasted with the hesitancy of many people to spend on apps to make the device incrementally more useful. Of course, that could be attributed to higher value for physical goods, but interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, I probably won’t buy a case for the Nexus 4, even though I expect to drop it at some point. That will hurt, but I guess I’m committed to the original design, even if that ends in tears.

Where do you stand on this? Find the comments.


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12 Responses to “Smartphone Cases, For or Against?”

  1. John E. Bredehoft (Empoprises) Says:

    I revisited the comments from the 2010 post, which described various cost-related issues. And now I realize that cost is paramount in the whole debate.

    While a phone may be purhcased for both form and functional reasons, a case is purchased solely for functional reasons. As such, case prices are subject to demand pressures – especially since the perceived price of the phones is much lower than their actual price. (My perceived price for my smartphone was $50, so I’m not going to run out and pay $100 for a case.)

    I considered the inverse. What if Company X designed a really really ugly phone, and a third party developed cases that substantially improved the form of the phone? In that instance, the case would be considered a luxury item with high elasticity of demand, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the case exceeded the cost of the original phone.

  2. oraclebase Says:

    I think of phones/tablets like new cars or new bikes. You are over-protective until you get that first scratch, then that bit of your brain turns off and as long as they function you don’t even notice the dent in the door… :)

  3. Jake Says:

    Good point. I’m the same way, possibly more fatalistic.

  4. Jake Says:

    Cases also allow for personalization, which is important to many people. The iPhone started out as, and continues to be, a luxury item conveying status. As smartphones have proliferated, cases provide a way to differentiate further, adding personalization to status.

    Status outweighs utility for the vast majority of users, no question.

  5. uvox Says:

    Against. Against. Against. A bit like the concept of the bra on a car IMO (never seen this outside the US btw). Fundamentally, phones are personal tools, part of your wardrobe and lifestyle even when used for work, and expensive, and you want to take care of them by being careful in use. A few scratches proves you’re a user. Phone cases generally ain’t cool IMO. The Apple iPhone one was fundamentally to address a functional failing. Cases are just like clipping feature phones to the belt of your chinos in terms of appeal for me. Careful out there. If they’re really needed, then CRM leverage on the manufacturer change the design of the phone to make it more durable I think…

  6. Jake Says:

    Love it, car bra *and* plastic furniture covers, great analogies. Not surprised the car bra is uniquely American. We are the United States of stuff for our stuff.

    I think cases might be gender-specific in some regard, i.e. they protect the phone in a purse where stuff tumbles around indiscriminately. I have to think that purses should account for phones and not vice versa, by providing a pocket.

    Isn’t it funny that hardened or tough devices are so bulky and chunky? That’s an area for innovation.

  7. uvox Says:

    Can’t wait to see what protective covers people pick when they’re *wearing* devices: http://www.dezeen.com/2012/12/18/google-augmented-reality-interview-john-hanke/ phone cases will be the pocket protectors of our day: http://www.partycity.com/product/nerd+pocket+protector.do

    Could be a gender thing, but I don’t have the data points… I only recently came across the concept of butt dialing… no, let’s not go there with research on that either… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocket_dialing

  8. uvox Says:

    good point. there are no end of cases that cost more than the device too. here’s what my sister in law is sporting on her iPad: http://howtospendit.ft.com/gift-guide/5078-smythson-mara-folding-ipad-case

  9. Jake Says:

    Bond to happen, how do you differentiate when everyone has one?

  10. Jake Says:

    Ah wearable computing, bc Bluetooth headsets are just too boring.

  11. Gary Myers Says:

    We have car bras in Australia too. Don’t see too many around though.
    There’s also the bit of carpet that lies over the dashboard to stop it cracking from the sun.

  12. Jake Says:

    Good to know if I ever need a car bra fix away from the US :) We also have that dashboard carpet, which has always baffled me.

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