How AppleCare made the OtterBox irrelevant.

Full disclosure: I own getabrigo.com, which is my platform for providing minimalist, use-case relevant iPhone cases and other accessories.

An OtterBox (RIP).

I’ve been in love with the iPhone since I first got my glossy black 3G model; I bought it secondhand off a local classifieds site. It was my first foray into the smartphone world (that honour previously belonged to my Palm Treo or Motorola Q9h, but my definition of “smart phone” has thankfully evolved since then). Back then, buying a smartphone on local online classified (such as Kijiji or Craigslist) had three unwritten rules:

  1. Buyer beware: Once you’ve bought it, it belongs to you. No refunds, unless the seller wanted to be nice. They simply weren’t obligated to.
  2. Measure twice, cut once: Don’t be the guy that buys a used car at night. Be smart instead; make sure everything works the way it should, test all functions, and buy once you are satisfied. Make sure its unlocked, still under warranty, and that the water damage indicator hasn’t been triggered (back then you could see the water damage indicator by peeking inside the charger port). Dating myself here!
  3. Protect your purchase: If buying a phone, grab the bulkiest, thickest case you can find, perferably one that has a built in plastic cover that goes over your screen, rubber covers for all ports, and a design that makes Jony Ive regret having spent hours designing a device, simply to have it wrapped in a plastic shell with a rubber outer the instant it comes out of the box.

As a faithful adherent of the rules, I got my first OtterBox when I copped my beautiful iPhone 4. Man, I loved that thing. The OtterBox served its purpose, no doubt about it. I dropped my phone, dunked it in water, sent it skidding across pavement, and generally treated it with very little pride of ownership. Looking back, the fact that I felt I needed an OtterBox was more reflective of a poor attitude toward economics and technology ownership, rather than the result of a demonstrated neccesity for a protective case.

Let there be AppleCare

I discovered AppleCare when I bought my iPhone 6. By then, I was a full fledged, card carrying Apple Evangelist, extolling the virtues of their particular brand of hardware and software to anyone who would listen. I bought my iPhone 6 the week it came out, and loved it.

I also bought AppleCare. I justified paying for it, for reasons I’ll explain later. Further, the year I bought AppleCare is also the year I didn’t bother buying an OtterBox (or any other turgid case that combined plastic and rubber parts). In my opinion, that’s also the year the OtterBox became irrelevant to me.

Let’s take a step back here. In all fairness, finance advice (such as “should I buy AppleCare?”) is a lot like health advice, in that at the surface, a one-size-fits-all approach will work temporarily, but once beyond the surface, the correct answers depend more on the person asking the question, than it does on some time honoured ancient truths. In other words, you gotta do what’s right for you.

So why do I think AppleCare made the Otterbox irrelevant for me? Here are two of my main reasons:

  1. I realized that I had been buying a device that used design/ ergonomics as a selling point, only to turn around and not even bother appreciating the design in everyday use anyway. That struck me as bellweather of our attitudes toward consumption in the 2000’s; it’s easy to make a purchase of a product that assigns a dollar value to design (unquantifiable though it is), and then make another purchase decision to facilitates our desire to avoid experiencing the design in the fullest way possible (i.e. a bulky case). UI aside, the design is one of things that makes the iPhone stand apart; it is arguably iconic in that it has attained a geometric and visual familiarity on par with other well-made products (such as the unforgettable curves of a Porsche). In other words, you’ll know one once you see one. I realized that once I bought AppleCare, I was able to enjoy my iPhone more; I focused less on sheltering it, and started treating it like what it is; an item meant to provide utility through consumption. Part of that utility comes from the union of hardware design and software design; the shape, size, and curves of the outside facilitate the gestures, swipes, and taps that make the device as usable as it is. I made a conscious descision to stop covering up the device, to let it breathe, and I haven’t looked back since.
  2. I realized that the reasons AppleCare was relevant went beyond simply protecting the outside of the device. Truth is, when I reflected, the reasons why I end up going to an Apple Store for service outside of warranty have less to do with a dinged device, and more to do with other more pedestrian concerns: a battery that wouldn’t hold charge, a dead home button, dead pixels on the screen, or a dead proximity sensor. If I was going to get AppleCare so I can have my iPhone replaced because of one of these problems (and as much of a fan as I am, one of these things usually goes wrong at some point over the two year life of my iPhone, I must admit), why do I care so much about bulking up the outside of my iPhone with a thick case? It started to make more sense to treat my device with pride, watch it develop a personality and a patina through regular use, and have it switched out toward the end of its life for one of the inevitable problems that arise. The iPhone Upgrade Program makes this approach even more relevant; it screams “Strip that huge case off and enjoy your damn phone!”. Might as well; chances are you’ll replace it anyway.
I realized that once I bought AppleCare, I was able to enjoy my iPhone more; I focused less on sheltering it, and started treating it like what it is…
iPhone 7 Plus case in Night Black from getabrigo.com

I’ve grown since that first iPhone; those new attitudes now guide me in a range of purchase decisions. I no longer agonize over protecting something that is meant to provide as much utility as possible, for a set period of time. Don’t get me wrong; I still believe in pride of ownership, and in taking care of the things you’ve worked hard for. But I also see things for what they are; simply things. I’m no longer willing to trade utility for the illusion of protection. Instead, I spent a lot of time trying to balance practical everyday coverage with the utility that I had in mind when I bought the phone in the first place. I found a few cases that met my needs, and then slowly realized that a bunch of other people have the same need, so I created a brand specifically for us. Abrigo iPhone cases pretty much embody my journey so far; the cases protect, without being intrusive, and cover your iPhone, without reducing utility. This is a new economic attitude though, that goes beyond slim iPhone cases, and raises the very valid consumerist question of what our treatment of our possessions says about us. You can tell a lot about a persons worldview, lifestyle, and economic literacy by the rationale they provide for how they choose to protect their devices and posessions.

It’s worth considering.

Thank you for reading! For more information, or to check out the cases I personally use and have decided to share with the world, check out GetAbrigo.com.