Here's my right-hand nails:
I keep them that length for fingerstyle guitar. Notice how the nail on my middle finger is noticeably shorter? It was as long as the others until yesterday's bass playing, which ended up tearing a section off, and I had to file it smooth again (you can't tell from the pic, but it's still not completely right, still some thin bits of the nail that will be at risk for a week or so until it grows out some more).
I've always used both fingertip and nail when sounding strings, and the way my hand sets up on the bass it would be next to impossible for me not to include the nails when playing it. And yep, I have resorted to using a pick many times to avoid this problem (and when the material was conducive to doing that).
So to answer Stan's question, the nail damage is both brittle cracking and just wearing them off. I even have flat-wound strings on the bass which feel very smooth. I'm not the least bit opposed to having acrylic nails put on, I know that a lot of players do that. What about a paint-on application, like a nail hardener or lacquer of some kind? Are such things used much?