Biologically inspired materials and structures with tailored biological, physical, and chemical properties provide an indispensable platform to actively modulate and protect cell function in hostile and synthetic environments (e.g., devices or matrices). Herein, recent innovations are discussed in cell surface engineering methods based on bulk hydrogels, microgels, and ultrathin capsules derived from inorganic, polymeric, biomolecular, or nanoparticle materials applicable to various protective and interaction mediating applications. These biomimetic cell coatings can dramatically increase cell viability and stability in a hostile environment and expand their applicability for demanding biomedical, biotechnology, and bioelectronics applications. Some of the most recent studies of traditional inorganic and organic gels, polymeric and biomolecular microgels, and ultrathin conformal soft shells from polymers and proteins are also discussed. Proper selection of chemical composition and assembly conditions has potential to dramatically enhance viability of encapsulated cells by increasing their mechanical stability, masking the cell surface from immunological agents, increasing mechanical stability, and providing chemical resistance to aggressive environments. Some recent examples of such robust and viable protected cells for biotechnology and bioelectronics are presented.