Screen protectors – films or sheets that fit over the screen on your phone – used to be a necessity for iPhone users. Are they as necessary for new phones? Here are the accessibility advantages and disadvantages of screen protectors, and a run-down on what’s available.
Advantages of Screen Protectors
Glare from screens can be a problem if you use your phone anywhere there’s direct sun or bright light and this can be a much bigger issue for those with some types of low vision and eye problems, as well as neurological issues such as dyslexia. Anti-glare screen protectors can be a big help with reducing glare a lot more than the iPhone screen naturally does.
Screen protectors can also be less prone to picking up fingerprints and smudges than the iPhone’s own glass, so less cleaning is needed. Recent iPhones are less fingerprint-prone than earlier models but I still find that my 6+ picks up a fair number of fingerprints.
Many screen protectors advertise that they protect the screen from scratches and nicks but the iPhone screen glass is exceptionally tough and I am dubious that this is really an advantage with newer phones. Screen protectors might help, though, if your phone is prone to being dropped or hit as the protector will become damaged instead of the phone – screen protectors are much cheaper to replace than screens!
If your user would benefit from tactile markings on their screen, putting a screen protector down and marking that – instead of directly marking the screen – is an option that gives you significantly more flexibility. Dana Nieder did this when making a custom keyboard for her daughter’s iPad Mini:
Disadvantages of Screen Protectors
A big problem for screen protectors which aren’t built into cases is that the front glass on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is curved towards the edges. Screen protectors can generally only cover the flat part of the glass so they end up looking slightly too small for the screen. This picture, posted on an apple support forum, shows the screen protector not covering right to the edge of the phone – there’s nothing wrong with it, that’s just how they are:
Applying screen protectors can also be tricky – if you get even a small piece of lint, cat hair, or even an air bubble under the screen protector it can look like a mess and be frustrating to use. Take your time when applying a screen protector, do it in a low-dust environment away from moving air (steamy bathrooms are actually excellent), and make sure to follow the instructions as exactly as you can. In some countries you may be able to take the phone to a dealer who will apply the screen, which can be especially helpful for people with disabilities.
Different Types of Screen Protectors
There are several types of screen protectors available. These are the big differences:
Plastic or Glass
The majority of screen protectors are made of toughened types of plastic but some are also made of tempered glass. Plastic screen protectors are cheaper and thinner and offer more resistance to finger movement, whereas glass screen protectors are tougher and feel more like the original glass screen but are thicker.
Some examples of glass screen protectors:
OtterBox Alpha Glass screen protectors for iPhone
Belkin TruClear InvisiGlass screen protectors for iPhone
BodyGuardz ScreenGuardz Pure glass screen protectors for iPhone and iPad
ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass for iPhone and iPad
Built In or Separate
Most screen protectors come as an individual unit but some cases have built-in screen protectors that are part of a case. Built-in screen protectors usually come with high-protection cases.
Standard or crystal finish screen protectors are thinner and offer less resistance to a finger moved across them, feeling more like the original glass.
Anti-glare protectors tend to be very slightly thicker than the standard and offer a bit more resistance to finger movement, they also reduce glare significantly which can help accessibility for some. Most anti-glare screen protectors also have significant anti-smudging properties so they will reduce fingerprint marks somewhat too.
These are generally the same type of screen protectors that used to be called ‘matte’ screen protectors.
Special Purpose Screen Protectors
Speed Dots are a great example of a special-purpose screen protector – these have small raised dots at various points on the screen to aid visually impaired users in touch-typing and finding their way around the screen.
Blue-blocking filters will block blue light from your device, making sure you can get to sleep easier.
Privacy screen protectors are another special-purpose product which may be helpful for some disabled users, especially those who often have paid helpers around but dislike them seeing the screen on their divices.
So, do you need a screen protector? If your vision is especially sensitive to glare then they can be really useful, I feel, and they can be great if you have a special purpose need … but most of the other claims screen protectors make seem overblown to me.
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase the products that I've linked to I'll get a commission - a small percentage of the sale price. It won't cost you anything and it will help to support me and ATMac.