I often use the subway to commute. In Seoul, the metro is large and intricate, and its spacious hallways leave room for more than just bustling ajummas. Venders litter the exchanges hawking produce, underwear, snacks and a variety of other goods. There are a million little stores, but it seems that among them, the most common feature is cellphone accesories that protect smartphones.

Cases, screen protectors, belt fasteners, clips and an assortment of other strap-it, slap-it, pop-it-on accessories adorn the many carousels. It makes sense. Korea has adopted the use of smartphones at an alarming rate, and an already gigantic number of consumers is expected to swell to 20 million by the end of this calendar year. To put that into perspective, South Korea’s population is just under 49 million.

It would seem reasonable to expect that Koreans would want to take care of their phones, and the most pragmatic way of doing that would be to cover them up with rubber and plastic. It is an idea that I used to pander to as well. I wanted to protect my investment, so I doubled down on the plastic and slathered my beautiful devices in silicone. But I was wrong. I now realize that smartphones look best, and perform their best, absolutely naked.

As mobile technology has evolved, so has its function. In the beginning, it was purely utilitarian, connecting two people through the airwaves. Now, smartphones are much more than that. For some they are a fashion statement, but for all, they are a tool and an object of desire.

Companies put an immense amount of time, money, and effort into their design in order to differentiate their product. In the realm of smartphones, with so many sharing the same operating system and the same guts, the design can make the difference between the Galaxy S and the Xperia X10.


It’s wrong to cover up such a beautiful design, and we know it. To illustrate this, it is valuable to examine the unboxing experience. Unboxing a new phone is such a pleasure, such a seminal moment in its life. The sheen and gloss of an untouched phone opened for the first time is something remarkable, and knowing you’re the first person to handle it kindles a special feeling of ownership. Perhaps it is our appreciation for this unspoiled beauty that prompts us to protect it in the first place. 

ss of the phone and the ability to fit that miniature computer in your pocket, the feeling that you’re actually touching the pixels as you sweep gracefully between pages, that nothing but air stands between the skin on your finger and that icon on screen. The smartphone experience is an integrated experience, and the best smartphone should act as an extension of your body. Piling layers on top of a device only abstracts it further and stifles the enjoyment and gracefulness of use.

Succinctly said, form is inherent to function.

Cases add weight, girth and unsightliness. Screen protectors feel cheap and dampen the display. Are not these anathema to the very things that make smartphones such a pleasure to use? Is it worth sacrificing these intrinsic features every day for the entire life of the phone? 

We protect our gadgets because we value them, but we’re in an age when additional protection is fast becoming antiquated. Phones are already quite durable, and with the advent of technologies such as Gorilla Glass they will only continue to improve. If protection is such a valued feature, insurance plans are available that cover even the most unlikely of events.

Protection is considered paramount, but it is the experience should be. Phones are more than just mere portals for communication, they have become objects of beauty, highly functional art. The motivation for protection is admirable: people value their electonics, and that is why they lovingly lay them in plastic caskets. But in order for the smartphones of today to be fully appreciated, they must be left bare.

Be sure to check out our own Mike Perlman’s response to this post.