Why Apple Is Killing Off The Bumper, And Why You Won’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5

Why Apple Is Killing Off The Bumper, And Why You Won’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5

Apple quietly killed off a lot of things yesterday, including Ping, the old “watch-style” iPod nano, the iPhone 3Gs and more.

When we looked at Apple.com, though, we were surprised to notice that Apple seems to have decided with this generation to kill off the Bumper Case as well. They still sell the rubber-band-style case for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, but they have opted not to stretch it to fit the iPhone 5.

Turns out, though, there’s an excellent reason why Apple didn’t update the bumper case for the iPhone 5. It no longer needs it.

Before we go further, let’s think about the problems the original bumper for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S was trying to solve. These were:

a) Antenna attenuation issues. Because the iPhone 4’s antenna circled the outside of the device, it could fall prey to a “death grip” which caused the signal to drop when a user’s hand accidentally bridged the separate parts of the antenna band. The reason why this occurs is a little complicated — essentially, if you bridge parts of the antenna band, you change the length of the antenna, which makes it track a different wavelength of radio signal other than the one Apple designed it for — but as Apple emphasized during the Antennagate controversy, using a Bumper or any other case fixed the problem.

b) The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S had not one, but two large panels of exposed glass. Neither of these glass panels were flush with the skeleton of the handset, but were exposed all around. That means they could crack and splinter not only if you dropped your iPhone facedown, but if it landed on any corner, so unless you dropped the iPhone 4 or 4S precisely on its edge, the glass could crack. The Bumper changed that by protecting the edges of the glass, meaning the iPhone 4S could only crack if it was dropped right on its front or back.

When you look at the new iPhone 5, though, you see that both of these design problems have gone away.

Why Apple Is Killing Off The Bumper, And Why You Won’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5

When it comes to possible “Antennagate” issues involving bridging the iPhone 5’s antennas, Apple largely eliminated those issues with the design of the iPhone 4S, which had an antenna divided into four sections by four separate gaps. That made it much more difficult to bridge all of the gaps with your hand and change the length of the antenna, therefore causing the iPhone 4S to start looking for the wrong wavelength of radio signals and dropping bars.

The iPhone 5 eliminates this possibility even further. Instead of an antenna that wraps around the entire handset, the iPhone 5 has two antennas that aren’t connected. As industrial designer Don Lehman has explained, the iPhone 5’s back panel features a cell antenna on the top and bottom of the device, surrounded by a thin strip of glass that allows Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and other signals to “peek” through. These antennas are so far apart that unless you have freaklish long hands, it’s impossible to “bridge” them with your grip. So long Antennagate.

So you no longer need a Bumper to prevent you from accidentally giving your iPhone a death grip. But the iPhone 4S’s fragility issues have gone away with the iPhone 5 too.

Why Apple Is Killing Off The Bumper, And Why You Won’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5

Image via iResq.com

First off, if you compare the profiles of the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, you can see that the glass of the iPhone 5 sits flush with the metal band wrapping around the device, unlike the iPhone 4S. In other words, you can no longer fracture the glass by dropping your iPhone on its edge: a metal band protects that from happening. The only way you can shatter the glass is by dropping it face down.

Even that’s unlikely to crack your iPhone 5’s glass if you drop it. The iPhone 5 uses Corning’s freakishly strong Gorilla Glass 2, which is 20 percent stronger than the glass the previous iPhone used. And because the new iPhone has a unibody design, there’s not only less glass exposed, but the back of the device is almost entirely protected with aluminum. And since the iPhone 5 is also about 20% lighter than its predecessor, it’s even less likely to smash or splinter if you drop it.

So why no Bumper for iPhone 5? The truth is that the new iPhone not only doesn’t need a Bumper, but it’s likely the first iPhone that doesn’t even need a case. Sure, third-parties will sell you one if you want to give your iPhone 5 some personality, but the iPhone 5 is Apple’s strongest phone yet. In all likelihood, it’s the first iPhone that even the clumsiest individual can carry around in his pocket as Steve Jobs intended: au natural.

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  • Whodakat

    Do we have confirmation that the glass is Gorilla Glass 2? How about the ceramic or pigmented glass panels on the back?

  • djkikrome

    I would like the wrist strap on the iPhone 5 like the iPod Touch. That may have looked tacky but I think it would have been nice. There are times when I’m taking pictures with my 4S that I’m scared as hell to hold it out in fear of dropping it to it’s death several hundred feet down.

  • BigLama

    it all sounds great in theory, but trust me. people will eventually experience breaking their phone.
    also, i dont recall the glass being gorilla glass 2, and what would happen to the glass piece on the back?

  • OMFGitsJUSTIN

    They reason I actually got a case was because my 4s was TOO thin. I was putting more strain on my thump while scrolling on the screen when the phone was out of a case. Plus it slipped out of my hand so easy. When a phone gets too thin it also gets hard to use, that’s why i’m still getting a case for my 5.

  • rpez021

    The glass isn’t flush with the metal band. It’s closer than the 4S, but still not “flush.”

  • RaptorOO7

    I get cases for many reasons, first I want protection against scratches and you can’t tell me aluminum isn’t going to scratch. The iPhone is crazy thin and easily can slip out of your hands so a case can help.

    I thought Apple was going to have some new cases of their own for the launch (rumored anyways) so maybe they won’t.

  • churchyfur

    I’m still going to get a case. And for Raptor007: OtterBox is already making iPhone 5 cases, shown on their site as preorders to ship 9/21 (same day as the new phone).

  • Lars Pallesen

    As someone who has placed an order for an iPhone 5 I hope you’re right, John. I think Apple has solved the Antennagate-issue, like you say, but I’m not quite sure they’ve eliminated the other problem completely.

    “… if you compare the profiles of the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, you can see that the glass of the iPhone 5 sits flush with the metal band wrapping around the device, unlike the iPhone 4S”

    Actually the comparison photo of the two phones above say otherwise, don’t they? The display glass on the new iPhone 5 may be LESS exposed than on the 4/4S, but it’s not actually flush with the aluminum frame as far as I can tell?

    I was glad to see Apple ditch the glass back plate for a metal one, but my initial enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that it STILL has glass inlays on the top and bottom. When you drop your iPhone there’s something like a 99% chance that it’ll hit the ground with a corner first, and, alas, there’s still glass inside those corners :-(

  • robraden

    Echoing what has been said already… what about the glass panels on the back? They’re at the top and bottom edges, right where the phone would hit if dropped. This is definitely Apple’s strongest phone yet, but have you seen the way most people treat their phones?

  • robert_walter

    I’ve never used a case on my 4S, but I dont agree with your article; not due to the points you have stated, but more to those you have not covered. I’ll cover both below.

    The pic intended to illustrate the point of flush glass seems to do the opposite (unless what we are seeing is the champfer on the edge of the metal.

    Falling glass down on a smooth surface would not have guaranteed breakage of the glass, but a small surface discontunuity or loose object, like a pebble, creates a heck of a localized point load that any flat pane of glass would be challenged to withstand.

    Most importantly, the new phone has yet to prove itself immune to nicks around the perimeter of the unit, or scratches to the glass surface (a grain of salt on a restaurant table can do nasty things) both things a bumper worked well to prevent.

    After a year of having a 4S without a bumper, I’ve lately considered buying one just to prevent any more micro-scratches (including one directly across the saphire glass of my rear camera) from defacing the surface of my unit.

  • nthnm

    Flush:
    Completely level or even with another surface.

  • wdowell

    Ridiculously flawed post. A) not flush B) we have no confirmation (at least it wasn’t announced in any way that it was stronger) about the glass and C) I sill reckon I’ll sadly smash the front glass by dropping it!

  • RaptorOO7

    I’m still going to get a case. And for Raptor007: OtterBox is already making iPhone 5 cases, shown on their site as preorders to ship 9/21 (same day as the new phone).

    Thanks for the heads up on OtterBox. I am looking at their site but the flash for 360 degree view isn’t working right now. Which of the OtterBox cases is the best for the money?

  • Seth Goldberg

    After a year of having a 4S without a bumper, I’ve lately considered buying one just to prevent any more micro-scratches (including one directly across the saphire glass of my rear camera) from defacing the surface of my unit.

    The 4S doesn’t use sapphire in front of its lens.

  • mr_bee

    Good article but I think you overplay the “problems” of the previous phones. Also you seem to have a very different definition of “flush” than the rest of us. :-)

  • mr_bee

    Echoing what has been said already… what about the glass panels on the back? They’re at the top and bottom edges, right where the phone would hit if dropped. This is definitely Apple’s strongest phone yet, but have you seen the way most people treat their phones?

    The glass on the back is definitely Gorilla glass 2.0, is smaller, and actually is “flush,” so it’s basically protected by the steel band and the unibody housing. Much, much, less likely to break.

    Also worth considering that the issue of breakage was vastly overplayed even on the iPhone 4.

  • mr_bee

    … scratches to the glass surface (a grain of salt on a restaurant table can do nasty things) … I’ve lately considered buying one just to prevent any more micro-scratches (including one directly across the saphire glass of my rear camera) from defacing the surface of my unit.

    Just on this one point, you are incorrect.

    Salt cannot scratch Gorilla glass 1.0 so it won’t scratch the 2.0 stuff either. It’s impossible because the salt crystals are much softer than the glass. Any micro-scratches would have to be caused by a tiny particle of something harder than the glass. In everyday use this means basically the particle has to be steel or some kind of hard rock.

    Your most likely culprit is sand which is full of quartz crystals (one of the few things harder than the Gorilla glass). Most people’s keyrings (not the keys which are soft, but the steel rings), will also scratch if you have the phone in the same pocket as the keys, but tiny scratches as you describe are almost always dirt/sand related.

    Almost nothing will scratch sapphire, not even quartz as it’s higher up the hardness scale.

  • muledoggie

    You don’t need a case if you never drop your phone. But EVERYONE drops their phone sometimes, therefore it would be foolish not to have a case. The idea this phone wouldn’t be damage by a drop is pretty lame.

  • robert_walter
    … scratches to the glass surface (a grain of salt on a restaurant table can do nasty things) … I’ve lately considered buying one just to prevent any more micro-scratches (including one directly across the saphire glass of my rear camera) from defacing the surface of my unit.

    Just on this one point, you are incorrect.

    Salt cannot scratch Gorilla glass 1.0 so it won’t scratch the 2.0 stuff either. It’s impossible because the salt crystals are much softer than the glass. Any micro-scratches would have to be caused by a tiny particle of something harder than the glass. In everyday use this means basically the particle has to be steel or some kind of hard rock.

    Your most likely culprit is sand which is full of quartz crystals (one of the few things harder than the Gorilla glass). Most people’s keyrings (not the keys which are soft, but the steel rings), will also scratch if you have the phone in the same pocket as the keys, but tiny scratches as you describe are almost always dirt/sand related.

    Almost nothing will scratch sapphire, not even quartz as it’s higher up the hardness scale.

    I agree with your analysis. I didn’t have time to check the salt theory before posting, but went with the fact that I’m not commingling my phone with any other object (I carry it in my hip pocket), and when out of the pocket, I am careful not to slide it around on any surface.

    Be that as it may, I have these fine scratches, and tried to imagine where they came from. Now it is possible that grit embedded in the fabric of the pocket of my pants did this, but I thought it more likely that there must have been a grain of salt on a table in a restaurant that I overlooked.

    Regardless, despite care in handling and setting down, I have microscratches on both the front and rear surfaces with one extending across the lense of the front camera …

    Note: I erroneously said that the scratch was across the lense of the back camera but the scratch is in fact across the front. Sorry for any confusion.

  • lawful

    I’ve never used a case on my 4S, but I dont agree with your article; not due to the points you have stated, but more to those you have not covered. I’ll cover both below.

    The pic intended to illustrate the point of flush glass seems to do the opposite (unless what we are seeing is the champfer on the edge of the metal.

    Falling glass down on a smooth surface would not have guaranteed breakage of the glass, but a small surface discontunuity or loose object, like a pebble, creates a heck of a localized point load that any flat pane of glass would be challenged to withstand.

    Most importantly, the new phone has yet to prove itself immune to nicks around the perimeter of the unit, or scratches to the glass surface (a grain of salt on a restaurant table can do nasty things) both things a bumper worked well to prevent.

    After a year of having a 4S without a bumper, I’ve lately considered buying one just to prevent any more micro-scratches (including one directly across the saphire glass of my rear camera) from defacing the surface of my unit.

    Hello, are you saying that iPhone 4S rear camera is made of saphire glass? isn’t it made of plastic??? Thank you.

  • nickg_uk

    But as your photo clearly shows, the glass still stands proud of the metal band, so how is this issue solved?? It would only be solved if the metal band was considerably thicker than the glass AND stood well proud of it so as to not transfer shock to the glass if you were to drop your phone. They’ve also removed the plastic spacer, so I would say you’re more likely to break the glass on a 5 than you are to break it on a 4 or 4S.

  • Tallest_Skil

    It would only be solved if the metal band was considerably thicker than the glass AND stood well proud of it so as to not transfer shock to the glass if you were to drop your phone.

    That wouldn’t solve it at all.

  • speg

    “The truth is that the new iPhone not only doesn’t need a Bumper, but it’s likely the first iPhone that doesn’t even need a case.”

    Are you forgetting about the original? It was a tank.

  • mensta

    This thing about the glass being flush is a very inaccurate report, especially when you’ve got the photo comparison right here in front for all of us to see…
    CoM, you have long been insulting our intelligence, but now our eyesight too?

  • Tinny

    With this article you understand iphone5 is not so ‘equal’ to iphone4.
    I usually put in a case just to avoid scratches on the back. Tried Invisible Shield but tends to detach at borders with time

  • Themetris

    The front is still all-glass so I can’t agree that Apple has rendered cases obsolete with the almighty 5. Bumpers, perhaps, having fixed the antenna issues, but a case is more utility and less personality. Both glass and aluminum, however tough, are prone to hairline scratches at least. Say you’re in a hurry and put your keys in the same pocket or pouch with your phone. That WILL hurt. Another pro-case reason? Keep it in mint condition to maintain high re-sell value for when the next iPhone iteration comes along ;-)

  • sbojevets

    It seems the main point here is to drive sales on replacement phones because many people desperately want to believe in fairy tales.

  • Jacob Winkler

    It was in the keynote that it was gorilla glass 2. Hopefully they were smart enought to make the 2 back panels gg2 also. The glass is also closer the edge bezel of the phone I guess we will see if this is a strong phone with the enevitable YouTube test for the screen.

  • Traveller

    Buying a case (even the cheap ones) is such a small investment that could SAVE the owner a lot of time and money (the hassle of repairs/replacement). Even if the iPhone5 is more durable overall, IMHO this is just poor advice to discourage owners from buying cases.

    This is like telling a homeowner to STOP buying home insurance because their brand new expensive mansion just got painted with a coating of fire-resistant (or fire retardant) paint. Yes, it’s nice that your nice house now is protected and able to resist fire damage better. But home insurance is still a smart idea because so many things can and do go wrong.

    In summary, iPhone owners should still buy protective cases for obvious reasons already stated here (i.e. everyone drops their phones at some point).

  • appleXIII

    i hope someone makes a bumper so that i can just use that so i don’t scratch the shit out of the aluminum on the sides of my black iPhone 5

  • Tallest_Skil

    i hope someone makes a bumper so that i can just use that so i don’t scratch the shit out of the aluminum on the sides of my black iPhone 5

    I hope you just frigging take care of your possessions so you don’t scratch the aluminum on the iPhone.

    For the love of humanity. I have a first-gen iPhone. Never got a case for it. Carry it with me every single day, and have for over five years.

    Pristine condition. Like the frigging day out of the box. Because I know how to take care of my possessions.

  • JoeSanPietro

    This article is irresponsible and the breakage point erroneous. Dropped the iPhone 5 on the sidewalk and the two small glass panels on the back shattered. I was told by Apple that there were no cases made yet but a simple web search would’ve solved that question. Sigh.

  • staycoldxoxo

    dropped min last night
    glass held though like a champ
    BUT my sick black aluminum edging is now rockin some pretty eye catching road rash…
    reason enough to want a bumper

  • Germán Villacreces

    Everyone loved the iPhone bumpers, since Apple didn’t make ones for the iPhone 5, i got an awesome one here: http://www.theiphonebumpers.com. Excellent quality and great price :)

  • Jere

    John misses the point — I LIKE the rubber bumber! It keeps the iPhone from slipping out of my grasp. I am used to the bumper on the iPhone 5 and want it on the iPhone 5. I don’t like after-market cases. I like the iPhone slimness and hope Apple reconsiders its decision to dump the rubber bumper.

  • Jere

    Let me reinforce my last comment. Rubber bumpers help things work better. They are found on the inside of car doors and kitchen cabinets. Rubber bumpers cushion hard surfaces and keep them from clanking against each other. If Apple doesn’t begin offering a bumper for the iPhone 5 I will add my own.

  • slashwalk

    Some of us just loved the bumper for its design,so I got a white bumper from http://www.theiphonebumpers.com, it is great I just got it today! :D for $9.99, its a steal!

  • duncanfurg13

    It’s really a true feat of engineering. Well done, Apple.

  • karinepeillon

    BLA BLA BLAAAAAA……It was still the nicest protective item to add to a ,still fragile, device. It didn’t hide the entire phone like all the other lame cases and provided some actual gripp that is greatly needed on all the iphones all the way to the iphone 5. We protect our laptops with cases….why should we not do the same with the 600$ phones. Bottom line I payed a huge price to have an iphone5 to stay loyal to apple products that i’ve always had and nothing else. I would have appreciated some kind of finer attention to the fact EVERYBODY HAS A COVER ON THEIR PHONE. WHY SHOULD I COVER MY PHONE WITH SOMETHING OTHER THAN AN APPLE PRODUCT. A completely foolish thing not to have come up with an actual Apple product.

  • karinepeillon

    BLA BLA BLAAAAAA……It was still the nicest protective item to add to a ,still fragile, device. It didn’t hide the entire phone like all the other lame cases and provided some actual gripp that is greatly needed on all the iphones all the way to the iphone 5. We protect our laptops with cases….why should we not do the same with the 600$ phones. Bottom line I payed a huge price to have an iphone5 to stay loyal to apple products that i’ve always had and nothing else. I would have appreciated some kind of finer attention to the fact EVERYBODY HAS A COVER ON THEIR PHONE. WHY SHOULD I COVER MY PHONE WITH SOMETHING OTHER THAN AN APPLE PRODUCT. A completely foolish thing not to have come up with an actual Apple product.

  • gill904

    @Loise, you make $27h…good for you! I make up to $85h working from home. My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45h to $85h…heres a good example of what i’m doing, Fly26.com

  • dolfer

    I find this article HIGHLY amusing now… If ever there was an iPhone that *demanded* a case, it’s the iPhone 5. It’s ridiculous how easily dented and scratched this thing has gotten. My black phone scratches a whitish/silver which looks terrible. The corners also dent very easily. None of the prior iphones were this susceptible to damage. It might not shatter as easily, but it definitely gets ruined cosmetically without a case.

  • nikster

    My theory is that they discontinued the bumpers because they were overpriced and looked like shit. And they didn’t work very well.

    I got a free bumper with my 4 thanks to antennagate. I used it for a week or so, and the problems were:
    - It looked hideous. The iPhone 4 was gorgeous, the bumper made it looks like garbage. There’s plenty of good looking iPhone cases – the bumper wasn’t one of them.
    - Somehow some sand (??) must have gotten inside the bumper – remember this isn’t airtight or anything so small matter can get between the bumper and the phone. In there, it scratched _all_ sides of the steel band surrounding the phone. Yes, steel can scratch. You have to look closely – but thanks to the bumper, ironically, I have little dings all around my phone. Prior to using the bumper, the band was perfect.

  • mark933

    If you think Norma`s story is unimaginable…, 3 weeks ago my girl friends mom basically also earned $5547 just sitting there twelve hour’s a week at home and the’re buddy’s sister-in-law`s neighbour has done this for 4 months and got more than $5547 part-time at their computer. use the advice from this website… jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • ashley196

    Bella. I agree that Philip`s posting is unbelievable… on monday I got a new Car from having made $7552 this past 5 weeks and over ten-grand this past munth. it’s by-far the easiest work Ive had. I actually started seven months/ago and practically straight away startad making over $72 per/hr. I follow this website, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • claudia552

    just before I saw the paycheck which had said $6787, I accept that my cousin woz like they say realey taking home money in there spare time on their computer.. there best friend haz done this 4 only 21 months and recently took care of the loans on their apartment and got a great new Ford. we looked here, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

  • Jack2397

    Had to buy a case and got an Aktiv case from EDGE Design. Truly love it.

  • Jack2397

    Frogot the link http://edge-design.com

  • ConcernedCitizen

    I have already seen two iPhone 5′s with spider-webbed screens due to waist-high drops. Neither owner had a case their phone. One had decided he didn’t need a case after reading this and similar articles. To say “You Won’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5″ based on theoretical analysis of the phone’s construction, rather than real-world testing, is misleading and irresponsible reporting. How many phones have been or will be broken in part due to articles like this? A revision or addendum to balance these conclusions would be appreciated and may help to save some phones.

  • MayRising

    What you wrote is a complete b***s***. Ive had my iPhone for 14 days, when it felt out of my pocket and the front glass broke immediately. You shouldnt mislead peopple by saying they dont have to protect it.

  • christopherhofman

    Just saw Jack2397s comment. Seems that EDGE design went out of business, as their website doesn’t work anymore. Found instead someone who still have them for iphone5 http://www.justbuyit.com/mobil-covers/edge/alfa/

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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