What’s in a perfect Apple case? Sugar? Spice? Everything nice? Unfortunately, no. It’s more complex than that. A perfect Apple case is actually 200 pages more complex than that. And no chemical X involved.
If you are curious on the guidelines Apple imposes to the manufacturers or just curious if the case you have is one of Apple’s “best”, in this article we break down Apple's iPhone Accessory guidelines just for you. As an added bonus, we also included the products we think that breach the guidelines.
At Mobile Reviews Eh!, we do reviews based on actual usage. We do tests and use the products for days and maybe weeks. If you like how we do our reviews, please consider buying the products on the links scattered on this article.
NOTE: This article will only tackle iPhone 8 and iPhone X guidelines due to relevance and recency.
For easier access on Apple's iPhone Accessory guidelines, here are some links for the criteria the article would be discussing:
metal or magnet exposure
Apple doesnʼt want metals or magnets in the accessories. We think it might mess with OIS and radio on Appleʼs device. Apple also says that if your accessory needs to have magnets or metal, keep it away from the antenna keep out-regions
The keep out regions on the iPhone X are the tops and bottoms of the device and a 7cm circle smack dab in the middle. Interference from magnets is a big thing for Apple since they refer to this portion of the guidelines several times.
According to Apple's iPhone Accessory guidelines, Apple wants cases to provide 1m or 3.3 ft of drop protection for the device on a hard paved surface and in any orientation. That means that Apple wants a case manufacturers to provide 1m of face first drop protection. Not corners, not the back, the face of the iPhone.
Personally, we couldnʼt think of any cases that have failed at 1m. In fact, it seems like the iPhone by itself will offer a tiny bit of protection against a waist height drop.
Apple also specifically wants exposed glass on the device to not come with 1mm of a flat surface. In the newest iPhones, that basically means everything needs to not come with 1mm of a flat surface. Apple also suggest a minimum thickness of at least 1.15mm for cases.
There are several cases that would fail this guideline which include the Pitaka, Caudabe Veil XT and Peel cases. The Caudabe Veil XT case is probably the thinnest and definitely doesnʼt provide a 1mm gap for the screen. In fact, none of these cases offer much screen protection.
SIDE NOTE: Mil-STD 810G says that iPhone sized devices should be protected with 4ft or 1.2m of drop protection. This means Appleʼs guidelines for protection isnʼt as stringent.
Apple also lumps access to the bottom of the iPhone with the drop protection portion. When it comes to the size of the cutouts, Apple doesnʼt want the case bottom cutout to be any larger than the speaker grills. Which means the Pitaka fails again because there is an angle from the corner of the case.
In this criteria, four items in the Apple's iPhone Accessory guidelines caught our eyes.
The first one was odd. Apple says the “accessory should not have any edges that can collect water on the touchscreen when the Apple device is held at a 30 degree angle relative to the horizon”.
Our interpretation of this guideline is that Apple doesnʼt want water to pool along the edges of the case at 30 degrees. We canʼt think of any reason why this would be. However, based on this vague guideline, Appleʼs own cases sort of fail, depending on where you try to roll the water off.
The second guideline deals with the edges of the case which states "The case needs to provide 120 degree angle of accessibility"
This isnʼt much of a problem for most cases. But we remember seeing LifeProof Nuuds for the 5s in the Apple store and the edges for that case arenʼt great.
Now Apple does say there is a funny looking test block that you can use to test the screen access. The test can be seen in the image below.
The third guideline says that the no material should cover the ambient light and proximity sensor. This means that most of the full cover screen protectors fail this guideline along with every other waterproof case.
The last screen guideline deals with the TouchID with the case being required to be 2mm away from the sensor. Our guess is that TouchID is going to be fazed out for FaceID in the next few years. This doesn’t actually catch our attention until we found out that there is an Apple suggested test for cases that does cover the TouchID sensor which involves hand sanitizer and sterile, latex gloves.
SIDE NOTE: Apple recommends that the productʼs thickness should be no more than 0.3mm. This means that one of our favourite screen protectors for the 7ʼs and 8ʼs, the Patchworks Silicate ITG glass would fail this guideline. In fact, the default thickness for most of the screen protectors weʼve used sits around 0.33mm which means those fail this guideline as well.
There are a ton of minute details involving both thin and thick cases when it comes to speakers. Apple says that the accessory should not change the frequency response of the speakers or microphones. The user should not hear any distortion or echos. This means every waterproof case we’ve used to date fails this guideline.
When it comes to speaker cutouts, thin cases (cases with > than 2.25 mm) needs to provide a distance of > 2.0mm, be thinner than 1.5mm and canʼt have any gap between the device and case.
Again, itʼs all the ultra thin cases that theoretically fails this guideline. Even thinner TPU cases like this Spigen Liquid Crystal fails this guideline as the cutout for the speaker is too close.
For thick cases, Apple suggests that you have the case separate each mic and speaker hole. If itʼs really thick, Apple suggests having an exit separator to ensure that the speaker and mic ports do not occlude.
Now the only case that weʼve seen which has an exit separator is the LifeProof Slam. The LifeProof Slam itself isnʼt a great case and this exit separator is basically the standout feature of the entire product.
Oddly enough, cases like the Otterbox Symmetry, which Apple would qualify as a thick case, do not have the separators. In fact, the cutout on the Otterbox Symmetry arenʼt even close to 2mm which, according to this guideline, is going to result in the case being a resonant chamber and detune the microphone/speaker frequency response.
The last case we’ll talk about will be the Tech 21 Evo Check as the bottom of the case is so sparse. This definitely wonʼt mess with the audio of the speakers of your iPhone.
FUN FACT: Within Apple's iPhone Accessory guidelines are sets of tests that Apple suggest to do. For audio tests, Apple suggests having one person talk to another person with the case on. But hereʼs the odd thing, one person has to be on a landline speaker phone.
Now, the person on the landline has to listen to the iPhone user say phrases like:
“Glue the sheet to the dark blue background”
“The hogs were fed chopped corn and garbage”
“Large size in stockings is hard to sell”
These are phrases from the test procedures from the IEEE. There is one phrase that was missing we were hoping to be included “Funnel ferry butter bar”
The camera guidelines are taken very seriously by Apple. The camera is probably where we learned something new about iPhone cases. We knew beforehand that the shape of the cutout will effect the case. However we didn’t know that the color of the cutout along with the surface finish will have an effect as well.
In the document, there are several examples of how the image degrades through light blocking and flash issues.
Apple recommends a semi-gloss black material or coating around the opening. This is to ensure that light isnʼt reflected into the camera. Which is why youʼll see black ring along camera cutouts on cases. The black ring on the Speck Presidio Grip has a slightly smoother finish than the rest of the case. It is also not shiny, This minimizes the chances that light is going to be pointed back into the camera.
Cases that might fail this guideline would include the Spigen Ultra Hybrid. The cutout is quite smooth and shiny but the angle on the cutout is quite shallow. We point this out because on the iPhone Xʼs dimensional drawing, there is a minimum angle for the camera cone. Cases that would definitely fail the camera case would be any waterproof case and their tiny cutouts.
The oddest guideline for cases is the colorfastness test. We chuckled when we read that dyes, inks or coatings on the case shouldnʼt bleed color onto the device, or itʼs user. Particularly while the case is in contact with common substances like water. Or sunscreen. Weʼve yet come across a case that bleeds in our hand…
Why issue the guidelines?
In our opinion, Apple is very fussy with how people interact with their products. We did a semi-quick search on accessory guidelines for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and came up with nothing.
Now we can understand why Apple would be fussy about accessories. We’re sure they donʼt want a bad case dilute the iPhoneʼs user experience.
For example, all the guidelines for semi-gloss covers makes sense for the cameras because people take so many pictures and having a case that degrades picture quality is going to result in people thinking that the iPhone takes bad photos, not because the case is causing the photos to be bad.
Itʼs the same with speakers and sound. The person on the receiving end of the conversation will not know the quality of the case so if the sound is off, itʼs going to be assumed to be the device.