Apple’s shiny new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are now on sale in Australia, which means that many folks are enjoying their new iPhones from today. The one step you should take the moment you take that new iPhone out of the box? Drop a case onto it, pronto.
The traditional arguments against using phone cases are that they obstruct the phone’s design, and with a shift towards a more iPhone 4-style design with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, many new iPhone owners may well be tempted to show off their shiny new premium handsets.
Look, I get that, but the reality of smartphone ownership for most Australians is that this is a device you’re going to want to keep for at least two years, and in the context of 2020, maybe even longer than that given the relatively premium asking price that Apple slaps on any iPhone.
A naked iPhone is, simply put, an iPhone that you’re putting at risk of damage, both big and small.
But didn’t Apple say the iPhone 12 screen couldn’t be broken now?
No, Apple never said that, although I’ve already read more than a few gushing comments that suggest this kind of thinking in the reporting around the iPhone 12 family.
What Apple has said is that its ‘Ceramic Shield’ glass (it’s seemingly a glass-ceramic hybrid if you want to be specific) is up to 4-times more drop resistant than previous glass used in smartphones. There’s all sorts of caveats there, because any sum “up to” has to include much smaller increments, for a start.
There’s also the issue that the Ceramic Glass shield part of the iPhone 12 is only on the front of the phone, not the back. It’s not 4-times drop resistant from every side and angle, and it’s entirely unclear if Apple’s 4x claim relates to a straight flat drop onto the screen only. My inner cynic suspects that’s exactly what it is, because a flat bump will spread out force across a larger area, as any professional wrestler could tell you.
However, let’s take that 4-times figure as gospel (which it isn’t) and run it through a theoretical drop scenario. To be clear, I’m doing back-of-envelope maths here, not anything where I’ve dropped hundreds of iPhones, because that would get rather costly, but it should get my point across.
Ceramic Shield glass might be 4-times more drop resistant, but Apple isn’t claiming that it’s indestructible – just that it’s tougher than the glass it used to use.
Let’s say that you drop an older iPhone onto a surface where it absolutely will crack, 100% of the time.
That Ceramic Shield glass at absolute best drops that rate to an assumed 25%, which is better, but it’s not exactly the odds you should be playing with when you’ve spent north of $1,000 on a smartphone. The gamble here isn’t that you’ll win anything, just that you’re less likely to break your smartphone investment. Now, 100% break odds aren’t entirely likely unless the drop involves a fall into a car crusher or something, but even at 50% it would drop at best to 12.5%. Better — but it’s still assuming absolutely ideal situations for your fall.
Any way you look at it, Apple’s claim only covers an “up to” scenario, which means that there will be drop scenarios where the resistance of Ceramic Shield glass is much lower than that — and as a result the risk much greater. Frankly in the real world it’s not likely to scale at 4-times better odds all that much of the time.
That’s also only Apple’s claim when it comes to drops, too. It hasn’t made the same claims about any other kind of damage factor.
Pressure because it was in your bag near a heavy book? Not covered by that claim.
Sharp impact from an object hitting the iPhone 12, rather from a drop? Not covered by that claim.
Scratches and abrasions, a super common issue for most smartphone screens because we all tend to put them down in pockets, handbags and other areas where scratchy detritus gathers? Yeah, I think you get the point.
But won’t a standard case only protect the sides and back of the iPhone anyway?
That does depend on your case style to an extent, but even then, having a case on your iPhone can protect the front display, because a bare phone landing on its side or back is still going to send some of that impact force through to the front screen. Depending on exactly how it drops, what it lands on and the angles, that could be a small quantity of force — or quite a lot.
This is also something you can help out with via the use of a screen protector, another simple way to save yourself the expensive pain of screen replacement if the worst happens.
I don’t want to break my iPhone 12 – but I don’t mind a few scuffs
Well, you should. I don’t mean to come across all judgemental there, but my concern is borne out of more than just aesthetics. Year in and year out, whether they were the best phones you could buy or not, the one constant with Apple phones is that they’ve kept their resale value way better than competing Android phones.
What that means to you a few years down the track when you’re going gaga over the iPhone 15 Pro Hyper Max Ultra in Sakura Pink* (*product names not yet finalised) is that an iPhone you’ve kept in the best possible condition is an iPhone that you’re going to be able to get the most money for when you sell it.
You will drop some value over the years, but you’ll drop even more if the iPhone 12 you’re trying to sell looks like it was dragged backwards through a hedge by a steamroller – and that sum is all but assured to be less than the cost of a smartphone case.
This article was originally published in October 2020.