Saturday, March 10, 2012

Consider 4 Things When Choosing Your iPad Case

A fairy tale case, "Bookbook"
is from

The appearance of your iPad case will affect your interest in learning to use your iPad. That will be the first thing you must consider. Many cases are designed to make your iPad look like Your iPad, be it unique or pretty or special or simply customized for you. You will notice the appearances of various cases right away while you shop for one, and that will affect your final selection on some subconscious level. I have no comment on that cosmetic point, so the other three considerations are what I discuss below. They are: environmental protection, functional limitations, and practical advantages. You must decide which of the 4 are important for you to consider, and buy a case with those in mind.


Your iPad is very robust. It is not easy to scratch the back, and even harder to scratch the display. The glass display is nearly as strong as glass used in automotive windshields. Its metal housing is very sturdy, and it will absorb and evenly distribute the impact from most types of falls (unless it lands flat with the display facing down). And as easy as it is to imagine dropping it, in reality it rarely happens (unless you really do drop lots of things every day). Now, if you want to sell your iPad after a few years of use, defending it from every little thing that might happen could turn out to be a good idea.

A thin plastic case stylishly
attached to a book cover,
"Volume" is from
The little things that might happen will come from your environment, which may pose either a biological or physical threat to your iPad. Examples of biological threats include: food and liquid contact, the unclean fingers of children, and airborne dirt from spending time outdoors.

Examples of physical threats include: knocking your iPad off of a busy kitchen counter during the morning rush, leaving it on your car and beginning to drive off until you (hopefully) hear it hit the street, and falling asleep on the couch as it slips from your hand and drops toward the tile floor.
All cushion, little shielding,
the "Roller" from
All shield, little cushioning,
the "Slimcase" from
iPads can survive falling out of
the sky inside the zippered,
Extreme Portfolio from

The corners are vulnerable when
using this style of case - this one
is the Aura2 from

Multiple parts snap together to create
The Defender Series from

The most popular iPad cases are often not designed to address these real-world problems, but instead to be pretty and inexpensive. Cases built to deal with biological and physical threats will have these three qualities: enclosed corners, a non-transparent display cover, and both structural integrity and flexibility.

Environmental threats require a case to have both structural integrity and flexibility, which is hard to evaluate unless you can do it in person. It must not merely be a solid piece of plastic, or it will transfer the force from any impact straight into your iPad. So, a case must serve as a cushion to absorb some of the impact. And it must not merely be a layer of padding, or it will simply be compressed between the floor and your iPad as they run into each other. So, a case must also serve as a shield to keep the iPad from actually touching whatever it falls toward.

Environmental threats require the presence of both a covering over the four corners and a non-transparent cover over the display. If it should ever fall, your iPad can move a bit inside its case, and its corners can ram into things. However, if the front and back covers both stick out from the part of the case that holds your iPad, the corners will be partially protected from falls. Incidentally, those covers inherently make it a slight hassle to get to the buttons, and if you do that frequently, any nearby case material that is not plastic, wood, or metal will eventually show wear.

Also, having a big, heavy case without a solid (non-transparent) display cover will not be very useful if your iPad falls face down into a pool of mud on the patio. Indeed, cases with no cover for the display assume you are not clumsy and will never handle your iPad when sleepy or otherwise impaired. And incidentally, transparent screen covers are a hoax. They are harder to clean than the actual screen, and are more easily scarred than the actual screen. Do not buy any case simply because it includes one (or is one), unless that case encloses your whole iPad to make it virtually waterproof. But that might introduce functional limitations.

The back of an iPad

Your iPad has several items that a case should not cover. You need to know where they are, so if your case covers them, you will know that your iPad's functionality is limited. Let us briefly take a tour of your iPad. First, we will examine its upright metal back.

Along the left edge near the top, there is a sliding button called "the Side Switch", and the Volume Button is just below that. Along the bottom edge, there are many small openings on the left, behind which are the stereo speakers, and the opening for Apple's proprietary USB connector is in the center. The dark circle in the upper left corner is the Rear Camera (not on the 2010 iPad).

Along the top edge, the Wake/Sleep button is on the left, an audio sensor (or "microphone") is in the center (the 2010 iPad had it on the right), and there is an opening on the right for a headphone plug. Along the right edge near the top, there is an opening where the Micro-SIM tray slides in or out (not on Wi-Fi-only iPads) - this tray may be covered by a case without concern.

If you keep your iPad upright, but now view the front glass panel, there are four items within the bezel. The Home Button is at the bottom in the center, the Front Camera is at the top in the center, and the Ambient Light Sensor is just above it. On the right side, there are Internal Magnets which "sense" when certain display covers are on (which will put the display to sleep) - these magnets may be covered by a case without concern.

Five internal items that cannot directly interact with a case include the Wi-Fi Antenna, three orientation sensors (Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer), and various Cellular Antennas (not on Wi-Fi-only iPads).
The ambient light sensor is
above the front camera lens
The Micro-SIM tray is rarely opened,
so it is covered by most cases
The audio sensor is sometimes
covered by cheaper cases
A proper combination of solid
corners and soft defense is found
in the zippered pouch that is the Bubble
Sleeve from
This volume button presses the
actual one on the Drop Tech
case from

Most cases are designed so that you can use your iPad while it remains inside its case. So, you must be sure your case does not cover any cameras, buttons, openings, and sensors that you wish to remain uncovered, unless one (or more) of them is covered with a small movable piece of the case.

A few cases are designed so that you can use your iPad only after removing it from within the case, and they are similar in form to large envelopes, pouches, or purses. In that event, whether the cameras, buttons, openings, and sensors are covered is not important.

Some of the heavier cases include their own molded buttons and very narrow openings as a part of their structure. Those molded buttons will press your iPad's buttons for you, and those narrow openings will allow you to access your iPad's cameras, openings, and sensors. This initially seems like a great solution, yet there are drawbacks.

The thickness of the material surrounding the openings can prevent certain accessories from fitting properly into the headphone port or the USB port. Also, the contact between the case's buttons and the actual buttons is not often analogous to the contact between your fingertips and the actual buttons. This means that, aside from button presses which don't always register, some people will end up mashing down on the case's buttons to assure the actual buttons are pressed, when all they are doing is prematurely wearing out the buttons on their iPad.

There is another way to limit the functionality of your iPad, by having a display cover that does not fold back flat, directly behind the display. If your display cover does not do that, it will interfere with the main thing you do with your iPad - touch the display. Display covers inherently make the act of touching less convenient, because your iPad was designed to be held in one hand and touched with the other, and without any case at all. In order to comfortably do that while using a case with a display cover, that case has got to get out of the way as much as possible. Folding up behind the display is a precedent set by Apple themselves with their own cases.

A soft envelope for your baby,
one of the Sleeve designs
There are lots of WWII-styled
tech cases made of real
leather at

Apple's first iPad case, circa 2010

Apple created the first iPad case, incorporating a hide-away display cover into a dual-use stand. By folding the cover back flat, directly behind the display, the primary interaction mode of touching the display was mostly unchanged from having no case. And by having a second fold (or flexible crease) within the display cover itself, the flat iPad case can become a triangular prism, one with two practical advantages.

The first and second folds create a shallow "typing" angle, and because your iPad's display automatically rotates, this typing angle can be turned around and upside-down to also create a steeper "watching" angle. Those two activities are convenient to do without a case, but can become even more convenient with a case, as Apple demonstrated. Many other case manufacturers have imitated Apple's initial design, recognizing how a case that facilitates watching and typing will have a display cover that folds back and has a second fold within it.

Combine a kid-friendly rubbery
shape with a handle to form
the Widge from

The classy leather styling of the
Venture Case from

There are pockets for stuff in
the Aura2, a beautiful, slim,
business-ready case from

There are several other practical advantages that a case can have, depending on the activities and situations in which you use your iPad.

You might travel frequently or hold your iPad in your hand for long periods of time. If space is at a premium and you need your iPad to fit in with your tightly-packed stuff, a very thin case may be a good option. Also, a lightweight case may keep the overall weight of your iPad from becoming physically demanding. If a more comfortable carrying solution is required, there are cases that have a handle or a shoulder strap. If you take pictures with the rear camera, cases that have a hand grip or a hand strap can make it easier to hold your iPad upright and steady while touching the display.

You might want an extra level of psychological comfort when dealing with your iPad. Some cases have zippers, or very tight latches, which can make your iPad difficult to quickly access. This can be comforting if you are clumsy or are concerned about theft (as long as they don't know what's in the case). Some cases can put the display to sleep when the display cover is in place, if you worry about forgetting to put your iPad to sleep after use. Numerous case manufacturers have imitated Apple's display-sleeping "Smart Covers" by including hidden magnets that interact with internal magnets in your iPad's bezel, though some work only with the 2011 iPad (iPad 2).

You might need to appear professional in the company of clients or colleagues. Many cases are made of exquisite material, such as leather, or polished wood, or contain detailed etchings, metal hinges, and other expensive ornamentation. Some cases include various sizes of pockets to hold credit cards and other flat items. Some even include a pad of paper, presumably for interacting with technophobes.

You might need to type frequently, and using the onscreen keyboard may not provide the haptic feedback which your typing speeds require. Apple and other manufacturers sell portable bluetooth keyboards, yet you may want yours to be incorporated into your case, for convenience. Several cases include keyboards, using a variety of folding methods to protect them and your iPad.

Your iPad case expresses both how you use your iPad, and what you fear and do not fear. Therein, it expresses both who you are, and how you feel about having an iPad. And never forget... not having a case says things about you, as well... very "Jobsian" things. ;)
A keyboard comes with this
Chestnut-colored Artisan Leather Case
The award-winning design
of the Logitech Keyboard
Case from