Overprotective

I am a firm believer of using products as they are designed. After seeing someone wearing an Apple Watch with a screen protector and a bulky protective casing, I realised it’s time I wrote about how overprotective we are with our devices.

I used to pamper my devices. I started with carrying cases for mobile phones and laptops. My iPhones and iPads wore screen protectors and cases. When I got my first MacBook Air, I stuck protective films the palm rests and the trackpad, and used a keyboard protector.

Pointless protection

Such overprotective mentality stems from the belief that protecting our devices from accidents would lengthen their lifespans. With an extra layer of protection, we would less likely damage our devices. However, I think having this sense of security can make us more careless. I found myself being a bit more rough with my devices since they had cases and screen protectors. If the case broke or if the screen protector was scratched, swap in a new one.

My mindset started to change when I had responsiveness issues with my MacBook Air’s trackpad. I removed the protective film and the trackpad worked fine. In fact, I was delighted by how smooth the trackpad felt. I knew I was sacrificing some responsiveness with a layer of film between my fingertips and the trackpad surface, but I didn’t expect such a noticeable difference. I was instantly converted, though not fully converted.

I removed the palm guards as well. Aluminium feels vastly more comfortable to rest my hands on compared to the matte protective films. The palm guards actually accumulated more sweat than the naked aluminium. I was worried that the palm rests would weather over time, since aluminium oxidises. However, the aluminium MacBook casings use an aluminium alloy that seems pretty resistant to oxidation based on my experience so far.

I was making sacrifices based on my fear of something that did not end up happening. I felt silly.

Next, I ditched the keyboard protector. Touch-typing felt better and faster without being impeded by the rubbery layer of silicone over the keys. The keyboard protector collected oil and dirt that get imprinted on the screen when you closed the laptop. This is because the keyboard protector is thicker than the gap between the keys and the screen. Sure, you can clean the keyboard protector and the screen, but why create a problem out of nothing? Even after several years of daily usage, the naked keyboard has yet to become dirty.

The keyboard protector is only useful to have in case of liquid spillage, and even then it depends on the volume of liquid in question. That can be easily avoided by keeping liquids far away from the MacBook. If you really have to, make sure the laptop is elevated so that it is higher than your tumblers, glasses or mugs, and you should be able to survive most spillages, unless you somehow pour liquid onto the keyboard while holding your cup. Or perhaps, when you choke on your cola while surfing YouTube.

Functional form factor

Cases add bulk to smartphones or tablets. Mobile devices are designed in a specific way to give you the best balance and fit when you hold them. Product designers are trying their best to make the devices thinner, and you go after the thinner device, only to thwart that by slapping on a bulky case.

I have tried protective films on the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. While these don’t add bulk, they alter the texture of the phone’s surface. Some even make the device more slippery and thus more prone to accidentally being dropped. Those that are textured to provide better grip would reduce the sleek feel of the device.

Is there a need to protect the device? I believe manufacturers would ensure that their devices withstand everyday knocks and the occasional drops. We should have faith in the product quality and use the devices as they are designed to be used. The products are designed to look and feel good when you hold them.

Screen sturdiness

But I persisted with screen protectors on my iPhone 4 and iPad 3. Surely, I needed to make sure my screens don’t get scratched. That was what I thought, until I dropped my iPhone 4… for the last time. By then, I was using the phone without a case. I have dropped my iPhone 4 countless times before, often while I was standing, and it survived each time with minor scuffs on the casing.

However, that drop struck the corner of the phone, cracking the screen. I was unlucky. Or lucky, depending on how you look at it. The touch sensor was undamaged, so I only had to replace the screen.

When I got my phone back, I was surprised at how clear the screen was. Then, I realised that was because it didn’t have a screen protector on. All these while, I was lowering my user experience by sticking a film of plastic on the screen. The screen protector did not stop the screen from cracking, but it should be useful for preventing scratches. I decided to not to reapply a screen protector and observe how many scratches it would get. Aside from a few minor hairline scratches that are not visible unless you look for them, the screen has held up well.

That started me down the path of taking a wabi-sabi approach in my usage of devices. When I got the Retina MacBook Pro, I used it straight out of the box without any protective accessories. I have been using my iPhone 5S case-less and without a screen protector since day one. It suffered a few drops, with scuffs on the edges of its body to show as battle scars. Its screen only has a few tiny scratches that can’t be seen while using the phone. Surprising? Not after having used the naked iPhone 4.

When I got the Apple Watch, I knew I would only use it without any accessories. There are bulky straps and cases that provide additional battery life, which is not needed unless you are poking at the watch all day along, and that’s really now how you use a watch. I have seen people wearing the watch with ugly cases that defeats the purpose of buying such an exquisitely designed watch. I have said enough about screen protectors so I won’t repeat myself again for the watch.

Habits help

“What if I’m extremely careless?”

That’s the most common retort I encounter in response to the case for going case-less. We are human, and inevitably would fumble occasionally. However, is it worth sacrificing so much user experience just to ward against that one time of carelessness? Some people are more careless than others. Or are they?

Carelessness is defined as a lapse in attention or judgment, leading to a mistake. I believe such lapses can be avoided if you pay more attention and take a mindful approach to the way you do things. The topic of mindfulness deserves an entry of its own, at least. In brief, a part of being mindful is to be aware of your actions.

Through awareness of your actions, repeat it until it is a routine that eventually forms a habit. Make a conscious effort to put the device down instead of dropping it onto the table. Always make sure you hold your device in a firm grip. Avoid trying to balance it and risk dropping it. If you need to do something else, put the device down and finish the task.

The first habit I picked up when I started using my iPhone case-less was how I compartmentalise my pockets. The phone goes into one pocket, keys and coins into the other. You avoid scratching the phone this way. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who put their keys and phone in the same pocket, and complain about their phones being scratched.

I’m not an expert in how to avoid damaging your devices. I might even have dropped my phone more often than you. It is a constant learning process and being aware of what you are doing or not doing is a big step towards adopting a better habit. Of course, it is easier to just stick on a screen protector or slip on a protective casing.

But before you do so, pause and think about what you are sacrificing.