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Google designing Pixels and cases together now because '90% of people use cases'

It's convoluted, but that's what the lead designer on the Pixel team said the company does.
By

Published onMay 11, 2024

otterbox symmetry case google pixel 8 pro
Andy Walker / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • In an interview, one of the leads on the Pixel team said the company designs Pixel phones specifically with cases in mind.
  • “90% of people use cases,” said Claude Zellweger. “We’ve begun to design the product with the case together from the beginning.”
  • Interestingly, Zellweger does not mention designing phones to simply be more durable without a case.

Update, May 13, 2024 (02:30 PM ET): We have altered the headline and some of this article’s content. We have also added an opinion tag to reflect the article’s tone better.


Original article, May 11, 2024 (12:05 PM ET): It’s a well-known fact that the majority of smartphone owners use a protective case of some kind. While some cases offer added functionality — such as a kickstand, a place to store credit cards, or magnetic charging — the number one reason people use cases is that phones are made of glass and break easily.

In a new interview with Inverse, Google Pixel design lead Claude Zellweger discussed how the company approaches phone design, specifically regarding case usage. Interestingly, Zellweger admits that, starting with the Pixel 8 series, Google has started designing phones with case usage in mind from the beginning.

Here’s what Zellweger had to say:

You need to always think about every aspect of the product. One of the important things is 90% of people use cases. With the Pixel 8, seriously going forward, we’ve begun to design the product with the case together from the beginning. So just like color is not an afterthought, cases cannot be an afterthought, because you have to design it as such that it looks great and feels great.

While this sounds good on paper — phones and cases being designed to work well together is a benefit for the user — what’s totally left out of the interview is the very fragile nature of the phones Google is designing. It seems a bit of a cop-out to say, “We’re designing phones and cases to work better together,” and not say, “We’re designing phones to work better without cases.”

For whatever reason, the “glass sandwich” smartphone design has become the de facto method, at least in the premium segment. There are very few phones out there priced over $700 that don’t incorporate this design. Shouldn’t there be plenty of room there for innovation so we can have phones that feel great, look great, and work just fine without a case needing to be involved?

While I appreciate Google’s ambitions to use design to make its products more appealing to consumers with or without a case, I think the arbitrary 90% statistic Zellweger throws down is not the product of people wanting cases, but rather people knowing it’s necessary to preserve their fragile investments. If phones were simply more durable, that 90% number would go way down because more people would be comfortable using their phones without cases and enjoying the pure design of it all.

Regardless, the rest of the interview is worth a read, especially if you want to know more about how the company approaches the camera bar on Pixel phones.

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