Why Your Next iPhone Won’t Need a Case

sapphire

Evidence that Apple is going big with sapphire is overwhelming. But the reasons for Apple’s sapphire obsession range from scratch-resistant screens to solar-charging screens.

I have another theory: Apple wants to eliminate both the need and the desire for an iPhone case, cover or sleeve. There’s a lot more to this idea than simple scratch resistance.

Here’s my case for Apple’s case against cases.

The Need for Cases Is the iPhone’s Biggest Flaw

Apple is obsessed, obviously. The company is obsessed with elegant design. They’re obsessed with thinness and lightness. They’re obsessed with their own logo and visual, organic, word-of-mouth branding.

And that’s why it must give Jony Ive nightmares that millions of users cover his elegant, thin and light object of perfect with this kind of crap.

The truth is that Apple essentially forces people to use cases. If you don’t put a case on your iPhone, it will end up looking like a different kind of crap.

The iPhone 5 and 5s scratch easily, and simply look worse over time.

And that’s the harsh reality of iPhones: You can keep them looking awesome by never seeing them (hiding the awesomeness inside a case), or you can see them as they turn to trash over time with scratches, chipping, dents and other problems.

Another problem with not using a case is that the glass shatters when you drop the phone.

What’s the point, Ive must wonder, of pouring so much effort into an iPhone that will either be hidden or damaged?

How to Kill the Case

Apple is going big with sapphire. Estimates (based on documents acquired by analyst Matt Margolis) say the company’s Arizona factory will be able to crank out between 100 million and 200 million sapphire iPhone displays a year. That’s in the ball-park of how many iPhones Apple will probably build this year — somewhere between 150 and 200 million.

But it’s unlikely they’ll be making full displays out of sapphire.

Saphire is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide (so we’ll get to hear Jony Ive say “aluminium” again in the iPhone 6 promo video). Sapphire is “grown” by crystallizing it in furnaces, resulting in a giant cylinder that’s sliced and polished to make displays.

Using sapphire for the full display is way too expensive and costs several times more than Gorilla Glass displays do.

And, in fact, Apple has a patent for a range of technologies called “Sapphire Laminates” — in one of them, a very thin layer — less than 1 millimeter thick — of sapphire is bonded to Glass, which gives them the scratch-resistance of sapphire with the cost-effectiveness of glass.

Also: Apple’s partner for sapphire is GT Advanced Technologies, which recently acquired a company called Twin Creeks. That company developed something called ion cannon technology that GT expects will be able to make sheets of sapphire thinner than a human hair.

Another embodiment of Apple’s patent is a method for bonding sapphire to steel. And that’s technology Apple may use to eliminate the need for an iPhone case: I think Apple may be planning to put sapphire on both the front and the back of the iPhone 6.

If Apple can make 200 million sapphire displays, they can probably make at least twice that many sapphire laminates.

The iPhone 4 and 4s handsets had aluminosilicate glass (not Gorilla Glass) on both the front and the back. That’s why if you still own one of these devices, it’s either shattered or in great shape, except for micro scratches all over it. Even with scratches on the glass, a 3-year-old iPhone 4s probably looks better than a 3-month-old iPhone 5s not carried in a case.

Further, the back of the iPhone 6 could and should be one un-broken piece of laminate that covers both the camera lens and the flash LED. (The iPhone 4 and 4s glass covered the front-facing camera and back-facing flash seamlessly, but a hole was drilled for the camera on back. In the iPhone 5s, another hole was drilled for the LED.)

With its sapphire laminate technology, Apple could bond sapphire to glass on the front and metal on the back, creating an elegant, scratch-proof, thin, light and reasonably-priced iPhone 6.

This arrangement would enable you to carry your iphone in the same pocket as your keys and coins for a year, and it wouldn’t get a scratch.

It’s also likely that the sapphire or glass on such a phone wouldn’t shatter even if you dropped it on pavement. First, sapphire is three times stronger than Gorilla Glass. But more importantly, glass shatters when you drop it because it has scratches. Sapphire doesn’t scratch, so it’s also unlikely to shatter on impact.

An iPhone 6 that didn’t get scratched on the front or the back and that didn’t break when you dropped it on the street wouldn’t need a case.

I believe this is the main reason Apple is pushing for sapphire: to kill the case.

  • Gadget

    Sounds like a plan. Keep those Apple logos out of the case at Sochi!! I saw some at the opening ceremonies. Screw you Samsung!

  • tool022611

    I have had my phone for 3 months and it still looks like it was when I bought it. No case, and I use a tempered glass screen protector. I’ve dropped it once and the protector cracked and not the screen, which is what the protector was meant to do. The quality of coloring in the 5s is a lot better than the 5. I can’t wait for saphire, then I won’t need the screen protector!

  • tjdennis

    Apple is not going to give up their $40 markup on 5 cent cases. They make more profit on those than they probably do on the phones themselves.

  • MrJulioManuel

    Sound logic there, Mike. Let’s hope that’s where Apple is heading. I hate to have to invest in cases every time I get a new iPhone, never mind when I get tired of said cases.

  • efforting

    I need a case because Apple has designed the phone to be sleek aka slippery .
    I need the added bulk just so I have something to hold on land some grip so it doesn’t slip out of my hands.

  • rafabe

    Sapphire is scratch resistance? Yes, it is. But is not crack resistance. Because it hardness, it’s prone to crack if enough force is applied (for example when your nice phone falls from your hands to the floor)

  • Ianthetechman

    I don’t know if i would ever be totally happy with a iPhone that is totally naked i am sure at some point something would go wrong.

  • Unis Zuurmond

    I’ve had my iPhone 5 for over a year now, without a cover or any form of protection. I really use it a lot – often I run out of battery life half day. So far, no scratches on the front, and only minor scratches on the back on the metal, mostly on the Apple logo. So a sapphire coating will help, but…

    A much bigger problem requiring their urgent attention is the dust buildup in the Lightning port, and the loose fitting Lightning cable connector. I have to get the port cleaned at least once a month (at an Apple Authorized Store, a waste of time and money) if I want the connector to work at all. Which leads to the next issue. Many a day I’ve woken up to an uncharged phone due to the cable not sitting tight enough in the port – only when I push it in really deep and twist the angle slightly does it connect. Never have I had this problem with a phone.

  • Glenn Gore

    Sapphire works is resistant against scratches, as illustrated in the video of the cement block. But they don’t show drop resistance because there isn’t any. Sapphire is quite brittle and will shatter if dropped. Therefor it is useless in the effort to eliminate iPhone cases. That doesn’t really bother me at all since I like having a nice case on my iPhone to protect it.

  • MacAdvisor

    As an government-certified, card carry Apple fan guy (at 56, I don’t qualify as a boy of any kind), I have been a consistent critic of Ive’s iPhone designs because of the lack of protection against drops and scratches. As pretty as Ive’s designs are, they fail in the real world because they break so easily. If, and from the comments below, this seems a big, giant “If,” Apple final address this real problem with its phone, I will be thrilled. In the meantime, I use an Ottercase.

  • robraden

    Protecting the screen does not mean negating the need for a case. What about protecting the sides and back from chips and scratches?

  • EpicTea

    Ive never needed a case because i take good care of my devices doesnt matter how thin a case is i hate them i want to enjoy the hardware design of my device as well as the software.

  • ItsNgataMe

    Sapphire cracks? LOL not easily, why else do you think every rolex watch is made with Sapphire crystal? Whens the last time you saw a cracked dial on a rolex?

  • dcj001

    I’ve had my iPhone 5 for over a year now, without a cover or any form of protection. I really use it a lot – often I run out of battery life half day. So far, no scratches on the front, and only minor scratches on the back on the metal, mostly on the Apple logo. So a sapphire coating will help, but…

    A much bigger problem requiring their urgent attention is the dust buildup in the Lightning port, and the loose fitting Lightning cable connector. I have to get the port cleaned at least once a month (at an Apple Authorized Store, a waste of time and money) if I want the connector to work at all. Which leads to the next issue. Many a day I’ve woken up to an uncharged phone due to the cable not sitting tight enough in the port – only when I push it in really deep and twist the angle slightly does it connect. Never have I had this problem with a phone.

    Maybe that third-party Lightning cable that you use is the problem?

  • Steven Quan

    If Apple ever did make a iPhone that didn’t need a case you’d hear a collective ::sigh:: from every other vendor in Asia. If you’ve ever been anywhere in Asia you know how ubiquitous those iPhone case vendors are. They are everywhere, every mall, every street, every fair, they are under your mattress, everywhere.

  • Steven Quan

    I don’t know if i would ever be totally happy with a iPhone that is totally naked i am sure at some point something would go wrong.

    I like my iPhone naked. Problem is, sucker is like a bar of soap. It’s too easily dropped.

  • http://aqfl.net/ Ant

    Prove it, Apple.

  • MightyThorazine

    Apple : Last years technology next year

  • Ed Guidry

    I don’t get a case solely for the protection. I also do it because the iphone is slippery. It really does not want to stay in your hand.

  • http://carryontech.com.au Carry On

    I beg to differ. Cases are much more than just about protection these days. They are a way of customisation, to add personality, to add style, to compliment fashion.

    Cases are a huge industry, and with Apple releasing their own 5c line with accompanied cases it’s more of a reason they should adapt to case design rather than work against it.

  • Logan

    The reason every phone needs a case is because of a fundamental design flaw called no kickstand! I have always used the Leike leather case which is looks great, (a lttle expensive but you are housing a £600 plus device) , gives comfort and grip and sits beautifully at any angle on my desk when watching video or using for language study. It also makes nonsense of the materials argument and gives additional protection.

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Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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