Co.Design

Why Apple’s iPhone 5C Case Is Pure Genius

The iPhone 5C solves one of the silliest problems in smartphone design.

You may hate the iPhone 5C case. And that’s totally fair. But I love it.

I think it’s ingenious from a business standpoint--Apple has found a way to sell us a colorful iPhone and a colorful iPhone case to cover it up. You can’t really have the whole iPhone 5C statement without the sum of each part. Apple has just created the suit and tie of the personal electronics world--an expensive base with an inexpensive-yet-overpriced accent piece.

But more important, Apple has solved one of the most perplexing industrial design problems of the smartphone era: How do you keep a product’s identity when you cover it with rubber? Because the sad fact of personal electronics is that Apple has to either build an iPhone that’s four times thicker, sporting a plastic touch screen bezeled in silly putty (while all of their competitors opt to go svelte and fragile), or it has to acknowledge the fact that its idolatrized hardware really isn’t sturdy enough to live on someone’s body for two years before breaking.

Not to mention that the public insists on wrapping cases around anything they covet, whether it’s sturdy or not. Remember car bras? Cases are a social inevitability when it comes to expensive things. I’m surprised newlyweds don’t wrap car bras around their diamond rings lest they be scratched!

So Apple has discovered a seemingly obvious compromise: Just combine the aesthetic of the case with the aesthetic of the original product. Transform the phone and the clunky companion shell into a single entity that’s something more quirky, more personalizable, and, of course, more durable for the union.

The iPhone 5C is not Apple’s venue for minimalism--that’s what the iPhone 5S is for. The 5C is Apple’s platform for too much color and overt design. As Jony Ive put it, the iPhone 5C is "beautifully, unapologetically plastic." It’s brash. It knows it should think more before making choices. It knows it’s cheap.

All of this said, I will concede, if the iPhone is going to adopt a transparent polka dot case, then it needs to rethink the typography showing under it.

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30 Comments

  • george smithson

    The cover simply reminds me of race car rotors that are either slotted or drilled for maximum weight/performance/coolness.

  • Noah Gonzales

    "The iPhone 5C is not Apple’s venue for minimalism--that’s what the iPhone 5S is for." You've got this exactly backwards. The 5S (which I opted for based on the hardware upgrades) looks almost gawdy next to the 5C.

  • Santiago Hossni

    Did anyone read the article, and specially the final link? And then read the other article, and it's final link?

    You're here to READ and THINK, so feel free to do as much, before commenting and ranting on the author's credibility and taste.

  • Malone

    I can't help think Steve Jobs would have ever let a case that cover a portion of its logotype get beyond stage one in design, let alone release to the public.

  • Viktor

    It is not 'Genius'. It is an UGLY case! Worst design decision ever!

    How about to make the phone durable so it wouldn't need a case?

    Nokia - Lumia phones - colorful and very very durable (I had 920 and now 1020, very durable)

    Seem like Apple is not innovative anymore... for a while, more playing 'catching up' with the rest of the world and technology. 

  • Pascal_06

    I agree with Astro, " Genius " just seems a little strong way to describe that case.
    To me, that strategy doesn't really make sense, or at least, isn't serving any functional purpose.

    The 5S which we could call the Jewel of the iphone range, is the one that needs to be protected from scratching, People are scared to damage that beautiful polished chamfer, A nice premium case would make more sense for the 5s to me.

    The 5C in the other hand, is suppose to be the " cheap " one, actually a pretty good way to really bucket people in two ways : the ones who are good enough for the masterpiece (5S) and the others, who won't be fully part of the Apple family, even if they get the 5C. So the genius ( or the scary aspect ) is to me more about that frustration that the 5C customers will get, frustration that will turn later into a strong desire of finally buying the " REAL " Iphone, the 5S.

    So I might be wrong but my idea is, the 5C doesn't need a Case, People don't protect product they are not attached to. It's no big deal if you scratch a little but Polycarbonate.
    And if customization is that important, then I think Motorola does a much better job with the Moto-X.

  • Astro

    Pure genius? That must be some really, really good ganja you guys are pulling in over at FC...Chinese rubber with holes in it, in different colours. Umm....this is not genius. If anything, it's over done. I think you guys should learn the definition of genius and bring down the hype a few notchs.

  • Ali Kim

    I sense a good deal of shallow thought and bias in this article. I've deeply considered the success of the iphone and the ubiquitous use of cases. It was designed to allow the user to protect it like their fragile little egg. It's a very clever design strategy that allows them to hail the beauty of the svelte phone, and never "ruin" it by encasing it in dunnage. It leaves the user to evaluate "what level of protection do I need?" Your thoughts Mark Wilson?

  • Tucker McKnight

    I think someone at Apple mused, "Our dominance is dwindling. Can we still get away with anything?"

    And someone else said, "Let's find out."

  • Via Voottoo

    Simple solution for text showing through the polka holes.  Remove two rows of holes.  Keep the bottom most row though.  That's the first thing I thought of when I saw the design.  I am working on incorporating see through case designs into our collection with art on them at Via Voottoo.

  • Mario Veras

    The only "ingenious" thing that Apple has done here (if we can call it that) is that they figured out how to steal a bit of market share from the already mature custom case market. Nothing new here.

  • Mario Veras

    Ingenious? I'm sorry but I need to laugh at this. Color covers and cases even with custom-made designs have been available for years from 3rd party vendors. So pretending that this is somehow an incredible ingenious idea from Apple is laughable. I appreciate the colors and everything on the 5C which makes the iPhone more diverse, but the cases with all those holes look like the iPhone is wearing Crocs. 

  • Todd Bernhard

    I loved the suit and tie analogy, since my firm is NoTie.NET ! But the real story here is how the iPhone 5 'Cheap' is still $100 to $200. Perhaps it'll be discounted by $50 as BestBuy, Walmart, and Radio Shack did later in the iPhone 4 and 4S' lives.  But the fact that, two days after orderability, none of the colors are sold out, shows users are underwhelmed and/or hoiding out for the iPhone 5S, as I am.

  • CARVD

    I disagree. There are hundreds of stunning classy examples of personalisation and flamboyance that outweighs this cheap and tacky attempt by Apple. We live in an already plastic world. Wooden iPhone skins and cases bring tactile nature to tech whilst showing off creative designs by real people not faceless corporates. Oh and they protect your precious device.