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Plastic pushers: How the phone case industry has compromised smartphone design
Whenever I’m with any human being and pull out my phone to check something I will always meet a shocked face of horror. It doesn’t matter who it is, I will always receive a mix of dirty looks and shock when my phone exits my pocket. Why might you ask? This is because I am one of those weird people that never used a Mobile Phone Case with my phone. Friends have often called me reckless and unappreciative of my financial investment in my phone. Some have even considered me brave to even consider leaving the house with a naked phone. The audacity I must have to not put a protective piece of plastic on my phone.
Generally, after the moment of shock and disbelief, comes a question. And it doesn’t matter who is asking, the question is always the same. “Why don’t you use a case? Aren’t you afraid that you’ll crack your phone?” As someone who loves his phones, of course, I am afraid of cracking my phone, but this question and the idea of not using a case is a much deeper philosophical issue that speaks to the way that phones are designed. Slapping that protective Otter Defender Phone Case on a premium designed smartphone is a slap in the face to the design and ergonomics of that device.
The Evolution of Smartphone Design
The last 5 years have been very nice to the eyes that look at smartphones. Phones have transformed from plastics with flimsy parts to high-end glass and aluminum construction. These materials have resulted in visual aesthetics ranging from color shifting gradients in light to soft-touch matte glass backs. Phones just feel different now, they feel like jewels more than technology. This particular thought occurred to me when I purchased HTC’s U11 in 2017. Where the refracted light effect of the backplate of that phone just felt like something beyond technology.
This combination of factors has created a strange divide. A Print Phone Case now seems to be absolutely necessary as phones have gotten more expensive not only for drop protection but also for scratch protection. Yet this necessity has rendered the aesthetic appeal of phones almost an afterthought. Engineers and designers at Samsung, Huawei, and Apple spend months crafting these designs only for the majority of end-users to cover up that work with a cheap piece of plastic. In my view, cases have taken the design elements of a smartphone and made them irrelevant.
I often like to think that there are multiple reasons why someone buys a particular phone over another. Price, camera features, operating system, and screen size are always factors in any phone purchase. But the design of the phone is something that is increasingly becoming more and more important to consumers. The size of the bezel, the color of the device, and the materials that the manufacturer used have become more important than it ever was before. Tech reviewers focus a lot of their energy on the design of a phone in their reviews and have often criticized companies like Google and LG for uninspired design. If the phone has a predetermined fate to be placed in a Leather Phone Case, then why is this such an important review metric?
There is a certain ergonomic satisfaction in using a phone as it was designed. Phones have subtle 2.5D curved glass on the back for this reason, as to fit comfortably in the hand. This is a nuance to smartphone design that completes the experience. By forgoing this consideration and putting the device in a piece of plastic, much of this thoughtful design is diminished. The issue at large also rears itself in the way that many people buy incredibly cheap cases from Amazon or Ali Express that are made of incredibly flimsy materials and prone to breaking and discoloration after a few weeks of use. This is a slap in the face of the premium design that we see on devices such as the iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy S20.
In addition to this, many people purchase cases that cover up the finish of these beautifully designed phones making the visual appeal of the phone fade away instantly after the purchase. Consider a device such as the LG Velvet or OnePlus 8 Pro with a shimmery back that just begs to be looked at, only to be covered up by a bland piece of plastic to protect against scratches. It feels a bit disrespectful in a way to cover up these devices that are so beautiful to behold, in addition to the loss of ergonomics that many Silicone Cases present, all under the guise of device and investment protection.