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Indestructible tech assumes the worst

Whether it's iPad cases, flash drives, or FireWire storage devices, consumer tech designers must think we're a bunch of clods. But maybe we're not the problem.

There's a growing, not-so-subtle message coming from the designers and manufacturers of accessories for our favorite gadgets. They're telling us we are one massive, collective, irresponsible spaz.

An obsessive trend toward "indestructible" iPhone cases, FireWire devices, and flash drives is pushing into the consumer market. One or two of these products would indicate that savvy companies are identifying the occasional need to protect a sensitive electronic gadget from extreme wear and tear or the sudden impact that can come with traveling and use in hostile environments. But the drive toward stubborn durability leaves one to wonder what product engineers think we average consumers are out there doing with our expensive toys.

The hand-wringing is never more evident than in the iPad market. A tour of this year's Macworld Expo would leave you convinced iPad owners walk around in constant, abject anxiety of dropping or otherwise smashing the glass faces of their beloved devices.

Armored and water-resistant cases abound, including the Dry Case, the Marware C.E.O. Hybrid, the Swivel Pro, and The HandStand iPad Holder. The latter wraps your iPad up so tight it could paddle a small floating craft or serve as a well-starched Ping-Pong paddle. Does the average user need that sort of protection surfing the Web from their living room? Or are they using their iPads to prop up tables or flip omelettes?

On the iPhone side, you have a selection of military-grade armored cases. But the ultimate might be the Pelican. Water-resistant, dust-poof, and crush-proof, the Pelican protects your iPhone from just about everything--including its owner.

Once you've sealed your smartphone in this thing, you can't touch it. The only possible interaction comes through a headphone jack. Obviously, if you're on safari (in Africa, not the browser) or diving through the ocean's abyss, the Pelican is useful. For average users, it's like plastic on fine furniture--allowing you to see something wonderful without being to interact with it because you might ruin everything.

On the memory side, hardware makers want to sit us down and gently explain that we can't even be trusted with something as mechanically simple as a thumbdrive. Enter more hard-to-destroy items like the Centon Data Stick and Verbatim Tuff n' Tiny Flash Drive. The Tuff n' Tiny takes all USB drive components away and leaves only the interior chip. It's like Andy Griffith giving Barney one bullet for his gun. We'll hurt ourselves if we get too many bits and pieces.

Related links
• Should an iPhone case survive a sledgehammer?
• Otterbox readies iPad 2 Defender case
• Top 25 tough iPhone cases
• Hands on the rugged Sonim XP3300 Force (video)
• Military materials toughen up laptop, iPad bags

Why am I so sensitive about so many companies telling us we need to wrap our gadgets' lives in bubble wrap? Why would I spend time trying to break down the indestructible? I wonder if we aren't the problem and the gadgets might be to blame.

It's the black-box argument, an old stand-up comedy bit that says that since the only part of a plane that survives a crash is the black box, the entire plane should be made out of the black box. And if our tech toys need rubber, high-impact plastic, and Adamantium wrapped around them to survive, shouldn't they be made out of those substances? If our phones and tablets are so delicate we need to separate ourselves from them, are the gadgets themselves built well enough? Was it the best idea to make the iPhone 4 out of glass? You see my point.

Of course, all of this theorizing will soon go for naught as the near future will bring gadgets that merge directly into our persons, like phones installed in our teeth and Web browsers in our eyelids. When that day comes, I'll assume there will be accessory makers standing by to shroud us in indestructible cases.