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Scratching the Surface of Design Challenges with the iPhone 5



I’ve wondered about this in the past with Apple’s iPhone and iPad lineup, as well as with other gadgets. Apple is acknowledged for its design prowess and creating some beautiful gadgets. Other gadget makers also create some beautiful devices as well. With the latest iPhone 5, many are talking about just how beautiful the design of Apple’s latest as quite a stunner. Some even likening it to a piece of jewelry. That’s certainly a selling point for some, I’m sure. And of course that’s all subjective.

But, I have to question the investment in creating such a good looking device, if in the end the user has to buy a case to protect that investment. Certainly we all want our gadgets to look nice. I’m not arguing for less than that. But at some point, something as delicate as a smartphone needs to have some practicality figured into the design. These are everyday devices that get subjected to every day use (and sometimes abuse), not some piece of jewelry that can get locked in a safe until a special event comes along that is worthy of showing it off.

black_iphone_5_back_scratchedThis isn’t just the case with the iPhone 5. I felt and feel that way about the iPhone 4 and 4S, as well as other gadgets I’ve owned. No disrespect to the case makers out there who do a great job of coming up with enough designs to account for the large array of tastes and usage scenarios out there, but the fragility of gadget designs is what really keeps them in business.

As a case in point, there are reports of users seeing the back and sides of the new iPhone 5 as susceptible to scratches. Some are saying that they see scratches on their devices out of the box. That is probably a quality control issue. Given how much Apple plays up the beauty of the design, they certainly have grounds to demand an exchange. But in the grander scheme of things tossing a brand new shiny iPhone into a pocket or onto a desk shouldn’t yield scratches in my view. Of course we don’t yet know the full extent of what some want to call “scratchgate,” and I somewhat discount reports of gadget sites using keys and other things to see if the anodized aluminum will scratch. I would expect it to under those circumstances. But this will bear watching, and in my view, should bear some reexamination about mobile device design.

The point here is this. We all love great design and pretty things. But great design needs to also involve an element of practicality. If you need to cover up something apparently so good looking as an iPhone 5 to keep its design from being marred in everyday use then I think you’ve failed the design test.

Picture from Cult of Mac



  1. Joe Hall

    09/24/2012 at 12:28 pm

  2. Markr

    09/24/2012 at 5:34 pm

    I am galaxy s3 owner and I love it and how it looks. I don’t use a case because the polycarbonate back and gorilla glass screen are very durable. I keep in my pocket often with my keys, even dropped it on concrete and it still looks great. I recently saw the iPhone 5 at best buy and agree it’s a beautiful looking phone but too small for me. I agree with the author though that it’s looks are meaningless if you have to put a case on it.

  3. shane

    10/25/2012 at 3:08 pm

    Apple sucks

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