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The Ugly Duckling of Apple Design

January 28, 2012

When the iPad came, I made a deal with a friend who lived on Manhattan to buy one and have it FedExed to Stockholm. By some miracle, it made it through customs unscathed and delivery was fast and silky smooth. I had an iPad in my hand five days after they were first available in the US. This basically made me King of the Nerds in sweden. I was one of maybe five people in the country who had one.

I faintly remember my friend asking, on a shaky mobile connection straight from the noisy line outside the Apple store, wether I wanted a case for my iPad as well. I said sure, go ahead, whatever. The fact that i was close to owning an iPad made me dizzy with gadget-lust. What did the case matter?

I remember the unboxing moment. Oh, my. And the iPad itself. Such a slab of utter Appleness. Solidly designed, with a finish and quality that other manufacturers only dream of. No compromises. None whatsoever. But the case? Surprisingly meh. Matte black, with a coarse feel. Ugly protruding edges. The Apple logo on it did not feel proper. Something as ugly as this should not carry that logo. I put the case aside and went back to the glorious feel of the iPad itself.

It did not take me long to realize that I needed that cover. The iPad, while a marvel in build quality and engineering, was to heavy, too slick, too delicate to be by itself in my tote, chafing against lesser gadgets, marring its pristine aluminum and glass expanses. I had to slip it into that ugly cover. It felt like it resisted me, like it didn’t want to wear those ugly clothes. But in it went.

Two years have passed. I still have my iPad, and I still love it. I use it every day, and i carry it with me everywhere I go. My love for this device has progressed into that kind of love you’ll find in a long married couple. The burning passion may be gone, but it is replaced with a feeling of stability and loyalty. I may not love every aspect of the iPad with a passion, but I know we’re gonna stay together.

However, I’ve come to realize that in these two years, what really blows me away, what still commands my respect for Apple and the care in design that they represent, is not the iPad itself, but the ugly, black case it came with.

The plain black Apple iPad case is, simply put, genius. It is an understated, underappreciated, underestimated product that quietly does a job i could not function without. No flair, only function. And what function! Somewhere in Cupertino is a gang of designers who really know what they’re doing. I hope that their company gives them the credit they’re due. To me, they’re unsung heroes.

What is it i love about this case? It is all function. There is no way to make a case that would not diminish the beauty of the iPad, so they went ahead and took function all the way.

The material of the case. It’s made from some sort of matte black suede-like plastic. The material does not try to look swank or imitate leather or an antique book. It looks and feels cheap. But that material, while ugly, does not wear. And its matte finish makes it stick to basically any surface without sliding.

The seams of the case stick out and look insanely shoddy at first look. It looks like something a fifth-grader would make in arts and crafts. I remember wondering why you would make a tablet computer and fanfare its dimensions and then ship it with a case that had protruding edges. First time i dropped my iPad on the floor I knew why. Those protruding edges were in fact an ultra-compact and efficient shock absorber, left there for that very reason.

The lid of the case is weighted with a plate of stiff, heavy plastic inside it. The heft and rigidity of the lid is like a key to a whole range of secondary functions the case has. It enables you to lock the lid in different configurations depending on wether you want to view your iPad in a keyboard or monitor configuration. It locks into the back of the case with a flap that is as simple as it is indestructible.

Oh yeah, and as you learn the balance of the lid, you can do a bitchin’ wrist-flip karate move to open or close the lid. Very cool, or at least to me and my fellow nerds.

I could go on about this case, but overall it encompasses much of what makes me a true Apple fanboy. It is made with an attention to detail and a devotion to the user experience mostly no other companies have. Most competitors, if not all, would have made a case that looked flattering but ultimately did not do its job as well. Having used the iPad – in it’s ugly duckling case – for two years, I am grateful for that team of unsung design heroes in Cupertino who made my user experience even better, even if I didn’t realize it at first.

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