Apple iPods have always been far too scratchable, protective cases required to keep iPods pristine

“The problem with the [iPod nano] is really two separate problems: one with breakage, one with scratching,” David Pogue blogs for The New York Times. “Apple announced that one-tenth of one percent of the Nanos incorporate a faulty slab of glass from one of Apple’s suppliers. Apple will replace these Nanos for free.”

“The other issue is the scratching. Apple says that the Nano has exactly the same protective covering as other iPods, so it shouldn’t be any more susceptible to scratching,” Pogue blogs. “That may be, but even the earlier iPods have always been far too scratchable. I’ve always found it slightly ridiculous that 22 million people have bought this absolutely gorgeous music player—and then stuffed it into an ugly carrying case just to avoid scratching it. In any case, there you have it: the Nano’s screen should definitely not break, and it definitely will scratch unless you take care of it. (Carrying it the same pocket as your car keys, for example, does not qualify as taking care of it.)”

Full article here.
Actually, it’s probably close to 30 million iPods sold by now, including all models. The relatively inexpensive iPod shuffle is easy to throw around, toss in a gym bag, slip in your pocket: users should pretty much expect it to get scratched. It’s the utilitarian iPod. We have always recommended iPod cases for all iPods – even the shuffle, if you want it to stay new looking. In the beginning, with the first iPod – designed for Mac users only – we forgave the easily-marked up iPod exterior design as typical Apple – beautiful, but damn those fingerprints! Straight into a case it went, pretty much obscuring Apple’s beautiful, if somewhat impractical design.

(Detour: We also think Apple Mighty Mouse plastics are too smooth, get too slippery in the average human hand, and should be “pebbled” plastic instead. We have to wipe it clean way too often.)

Back to iPod. Now, what is Apple to do? iPod has become an icon; surprising even Apple with its tremendous popularity. They have to keep the general design statement. Apple also has a vested interest in keeping third-party “Made for iPod” accessory makers thriving. Just as Apple pumped and continues to pump ad dollars into Mac-centric magazines for years (since no Mac magazines on store shelves or in publication would mean no Mac mind share in the general public – by the way, we’ll happily accept Apple ad spending, if they’re reading this!), iPod accessories are Big Business™ and are another strong reason to choose iPod over competing products. Thousands of available accessories trump the tens of accessories available for also-ran WMA-centric players every time, so Apple’s design helps sell protective iPod cases.

An aside, we have one iPod 3G 40GB that’s never been out of an all-encompassing leather case. It is mint. We showed it to a friend who never touched an iPod before (yes, there are still many who haven’t). We left it in his hands and went into another room to retrieve an iTrip to show him and upon our return we found he’d TAKEN IT OUT OF THE CASE and was touching it with his bare hands!!! The horror! We cleaned it with care, and with no damage done, returned it to its home in its case immediately. This is how you have to treat an iPod if you want it to remain “like new.”

Bottom line: iPods are designed to be functional art objects and, for those that want to keep outer cases of iPods pristine, a case is a requirement. It’s not a materials quality issue, it’s a design statement. If you don’t care about fingerprints and scratches, don’t put your iPod in a case, but beware that the screen may eventually become so scratched that it’ll get harder to read as time goes on. An iPod out-of-the-box requires a protective case, just a basically any base computer, Mac or otherwise, requires extra RAM.

Would an iPod with a “brushed” metal back and a pebbled hard plastic or other tougher front surface be more durable? Yes, but how would that affect “Made for iPod” protective case makers’ businesses?

Related articles:
invisibleSHIELD offers rugged, clear protection for Apple iPod nano and other iPod models – September 30, 2005
Apple responds to iPod nano screen issues – September 27, 2005
Over 1,000 accessories now available for Apple iPod – September 07, 2005
Apple’s new ‘Made for iPod’ program designed to help iPod accessory makers – January 27, 2005


  1. I agree that they’ve always been too scratch prone, but it’s never really detracted from the overall iPod experience. I’ve had at least one iPod or another for over 2 1/2 years now and I’ve learned to just deal with it. Considering that none of their competitors can come up with anything that even remotely rivals it, I’m certainly not going to let a few scratches bother me. But there will always be a very vocal minority that will always find something to bitch about.

  2. i think a rival may be trying to give this more attention than it deserves but if they try to take the ipod down with this, there is one enormous problem in their way:

    a scratched ipod is still more beautiful than a brand new mp3 player from any other company. until that changes the scratches won’t hurt sales.

  3. how can something so obvious be so difficult to accept. iPods, except the mini, scratch way to fast and too easily. you could call it bad quality, at least not the best quality. what it so strange about asking the same quality from apple that others easily deliver. for instance panasonic with their lumix camera which has no scartches on the screen or black plastic back after half a year of use.

  4. You can not call bad design good design just by saying the iPod is an art object. And, who the hell cares about protective case makers. They are in business because Apple failed at design 101.

    Good design considers every aspect, including the user.

  5. I think people should stop putting their ipods in their pockets and bags that also contain loose change, paperclicks or whatever crap they carry around with them.

    Ive had a iPod Photo for 6 months now, with no case, carried back and forth to work every day and it doesnt have one single scratch on it. Not one.

    This is a typical and becoming all too common situation where people want to blame everyone else except themselves for their problems. If you don’t take care of what you have, then its going to get f’ed up. Period.

  6. In a recent trip to my friendly neighborhood Apple Store, I noticed that many of the iPod nanos indeed have a scratched screen. Upon a closer look, I noticed that most of the scratches were all in a similar pattern; a downward arch at the bottom of the screen (think rising sun on horizon). It seems the acrylic fake nails are sharper and harder than the iPod. It is obvious that many of the scratches are caused by these plastic claws. Not a minute passed when a women, donning these tacky attachments, picked up a nano next to me and started to scrape and scratch the iPod in a feeble attempt to use the device. When she finally figured out that the finger tip worked better than her Lee Press-ons, the long nails still scraped along the iPod, making the EXACT arcing pattern I had seen!

    Sharp claws – acrylic or real
    Car Keys
    Loose change
    Errant paper clips from the office
    Errant pens from the office

    …and any other such sharp or hard objects CANNOT reside in the same pocket as the iPod nano!!

    Apple should have made them out of titanium and charge $50 more, because these users obviously have more money than brains!

  7. One must also define the objectives of the design. Every design is a series of trade offs. Simply saying that Apple failed in design is not enough; failure in one person’s eyes may be to not account for daily use and its inevitable scratches, but the actual case may be that Apple knew that getting the gorgous finished product would necessarily entail sacrificing the day to day durability that the whiners seem to expect. Sometimes, there are indeed mutually exclusive goals, and you simply have to make a choice. You and I may not necessarily like the final decision made by Apple, but then we have a choice to make; do we buy the product or not; we simply decide if the compromises are acceptable to us.

  8. I don’t know…

    My 18 month old Mini has been through a lot in the 18 months I have had it, and although the audio output circuitry died and required by replace it with a new Silver 6G Mini, the case still looks brand new.

    I never went to any special lengths to keep it scratch free, it is just a very durable little player. I am now using the broken Mini as an emergency boot drive for my stable of Macs. I reformatted the drive and installed a stripped down version of OSX Tiger on it. I have run my Powerbook off of this iPOD several times to test it and it works really well. Not as fast as the drive in the Powerbook, but far faster than I expected.

    As for the Nano… Well, that thing is a SCRATCH MAGNET! After seeing the poor condition of 2 day old demo units at the Apple store, the decision to buy another Mini was a no brainer.

    Those claiming that a Nano is no less scratch prone than a regular iPOD are simply talking out their ass.

  9. The belt-clip cases that Apple bundled with the first few generations of iPods (and now sells separately) were the best, because they were protective but you could easily slip the iPod out to use it in its unadulterated state – the way in which it was intended.

    Those iSkins etc just spoil the experience.

  10. Yeah I just wish apple would have made their products out of a cheap plastic with a already rough finish like everyone else that way it would hide blemishes. If you want something to look new forever DON”T USE IT. My car has nicks and scratches galore, I have yet to call VW and complain about their cheap paint job and poor design.

  11. You know, we have a MINI and when you buy it, it comes with a little booklet that stipulate that scratches on your car are more like scares and are part of your car’s story…

    I think that I have the same philosophy for the iPod. I had the first generation, and was always so careful with it, that I did not really enjoy the fabulous design of it…

    When I got the 4G iPod, I just did not pay attention to the scratches at all, and I have to say that it actually looks in better conditions than the 1G I had. Now, my NANO has scratches, but I just don’t mind. It’ so sexy at the touch that I actually think it’s sacrilegious to put anything on it…

    Anyway, all this bla bla to sayL “Just chill, a scratch is nothing.”

  12. > how would [more durable cases] affect
    > “Made for iPod” protective case makers’
    > businesses?

    It might hurt case makers’ business, but your reference to “Made for iPod” was incorrect. Apple’s “Made for iPod” designation is just for 3rd-party ELECTRICAL devices that interface with an iPod’s connectors.

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