Case Compatibility

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In the August issue of Macworld ("Put a Case on It," pages 84-87), I covered 12 of our favorite cases for the full-size iPod, all of which are compatible with 3rd-generation (touch-sensitive button) models. Now that Apple has released the 4th-generation (Click Wheel) iPods, the most common question users are asking is "Which case can I use?"

The FedEx lady delivered my very own 4th-gen iPod yesterday, so I've had a chance to try the new 'Pod with many of those cases, and I'm here to report on my findings.

The good news is that the new iPods are almost exactly the same size as the previous generation -- only one millimeter thinner -- so new iPods will "fit" in almost any case that fit the third-generation models. In addition, the top and bottom ports, jacks, and controls are in exactly the same place on the 3G and 4G 'Pods, so cases with openings for those things will provide the same access.

Now for the bad news. Since the new iPods don't have the four touch-sensitive buttons across the the middle, any case that has custom-fit holes in the face will look, well, odd when used with a 4G iPod. But more importantly, the scroll/click wheel is in a different place on 3G iPods than on 4G iPods: Because the four buttons are missing from the 4G iPods, Apple has moved the Click Wheel up half an inch or so to center it. So cases with a custom-fit opening for the 3G scroll wheel will be difficult to use with a 4G iPod -- the hole and the Click Wheel just won't line up.

What this means for anxious owners who want something to protect their iPod now is that you'll have the best luck with cases that are completely closed or that have a fully open face. Forget the ones with covers made to perfectly fit the 3G iPod's four little buttons and scroll wheel. (For example, if you're a fan of form-fitting rubber "skin" cases, you'll want to wait for updated versions.)

Put a Case on It, 4G Update

Which brings me back to our August feature on iPod cases. Of those cases, the following products use a "closed face" design, so they fit 4G iPods no differently than 3G models:

  • iPod Armor ($50) The face's embossing looks like it's made for 3G iPods, but that's purely costmetic; the iPod Armor fits 4G models perfectly and provides the same tank-like protection.
  • Timbuk2 iPod Case ($20) Fits the new iPods like a glove. Great for using your iPod with a bag or backpack.
  • Eroch LiliPod ($40) The only thing that matters to this case is the location of your iPod's headphone jack; since the jacks on the 3G and 4G are identical, it's the case for 4G owners who want to take their iPod in the water.
  • Incase Belt for iPod ($25) This is the least discriminatory case of the bunch -- if it's even remotely shaped like an iPod, it will fit.

The cases below have a completely open face, so they work with the new iPods without any need for a redesign:

  • XtremeMac Xtremity ($30) The Xtremity is fully open, but includes a clear plastic flipcover that can be attached to protect the face of your iPod. Either way, it doesn't care whether you have a 3G or 4G model.
  • Waterfield iPod Case ($40) A flipcover design, the inside face is completely open.

Finally, this case is customized for the 3G iPods, but works great with the 4G models as well:

  • Covertec iPod Case ($40) Like the Waterfield case, a flipcover design. The inside face is mostly open but with a slight curve on each side designed to accommodate the 3G buttons. The truth is that if you didn't know what the 3G models looked like, you'd probably think the Covertec's face design was simply a bit of panache. (This is actually my current day-to-day 4G case, in red leather with tan stitching.)

The other cases included in the article are either completely incompatible with 4G iPods or fit awkwardly enough that I recommend you wait for updated versions.

On that note, the second most common question users are asking is "When are new cases coming out?" I've talked to a number of vendors and it looks like most should have updated versions of their cases, compatible with the new iPods, within one or two months.

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