Written by New York Times | Updated: Jan 30 2011, 06:02am hrs
Virginia Heffernan

You never know what will hit a nerve with technophiles. The screen protectora filmy, staticky sheet that covers the screen of a tablet or smartphone would seem to be a fairly noncontroversial accessory. But people who love their smartphones and tablets are divided over it. The screen protectors, manufactured by companies like Zagg and Splash, really bring out the emotions in gadget fans, especially those of ardent devotees of a certain hallowed tech company based in Cupertino, Calif.

Some Apple users seem to believe that screen protectors are the secret to turning their prized possessions into heirlooms. Last summer, a commenter on the Apple-gossip site MacRumors even hyperbolically requested a shield for his iPhone case: Is there a skin I can put over a case that I put on the iPhone 4 I want my phone and cases to be pristine when I hand it down to my children. Another commenter suggested that maybe all the Apple fans should leave their holy iPhone 4s in bubble wrap. Another went even further: But other Apple fans oppose the use of screen protectors, which they see as obstructions or even barriers to intimacy. On an iPad, screen protectors obscure the clarity of the screen, wrote one commenter on MacRumors. Another poster cried: Eeeeekk! It was like fingernails on a chalkboard trying to use my iPad the one day I had a Zagg shield on it. I hated the feeling and the dull dimpled look. Yet another commenter rejected the shield as a foreign contaminant in an otherwise pristine Apple universe, noting that looking through anything that Apple didnt design to be there is not going to enhance the user experience.

Members of the pro-shield camp, though, deeply fear scratches. They view iPads and iPhone 4s as akin to jewellery or children, and the slightest tarnish or eczema is intolerable. They gauge the hardness score of glass, which Apple screens are made of, against that of metal. They swap shocking stories of iPhones hit with metal pipes. In addition, many smartphone and tablet users seek some kind of matte shading to cut down on the glare on the devices in sunlight. To address this issue, one faction proposes using two shieldsone to prevent scratching, one to shade though members of this group are often derided as two-condom weirdos.

Where the pro-protector camp wants to enshrine its technology, the anti-protectors fear anything that comes between them and the Apple design utopia. They frame the conversation as one about screen clarity and sensitivity seemingly empirical subjects fit for message-board dissection. But things get emotional fast. The discussion says a lot about what people really want from their tablets and smartphones. And what they want from their smartphones and tablets is pretty intense. If they didnt use the word condom so much, I wouldnt have said this, butwhat people want from their Apple devices seems to be copulation. Or at the very least life partnership.

I dont know whether the shield is now standing between me and my iPad. The screen doesnt seem insensitive. And I believe Im as committed to my iPad as any of the no-shielders. But sometimes I wonder, secretly watching people who dont use shields as they caress the glass directly. My iPad and I have fewer scratches in our union than they do. But are we as close