Editorial: It’s Time For Apple To Fix The iPhone 4’s Glass Jaw | iLounge Article


Editorial: It’s Time For Apple To Fix The iPhone 4’s Glass Jaw

Everyone agrees that the iPhone 4 was Apple’s best iPhone yet on the technology side—a fast, powerful pocket computer with a good cell phone and a great cell phone-caliber camera built in. But it’s also ridiculously fragile. One year after the device’s launch, four of the five iLounge editors who purchased iPhone 4s have had to replace them due to shattered glass. Last week, our publisher became the third, and yesterday, I became the fourth.

I previously wrote about the deterioration of my iPhone 3G, which felt as if it had been built by Apple to last roughly two years—just long enough to make it through AT&T’s cell phone contract—and was then in the process of failing bit by bit. And I went into my iPhone 4 purchase thinking that, despite Apple’s assurances that it was using magically strong glass for the device’s body, I could well be in for a repeat performance. Our review of the iPhone 4 was clear up front that “smudge, scratch, and shatter issues await users who avoid cases,” and discussed the “case-dependent body design” in detail. So I was warned. But even so, I didn’t expect the iPhone 4 would develop so many problems over the last year.

Yesterday, seemingly out of nowhere, my iPhone 4’s front screen cracked. This was preceded by problems with the Sleep/Wake Button, which has become increasingly unresponsive and mushy-feeling over time, and a “popping” noise that appears when playing audio via Dock Connecting accessories. In retrospect, I should have sought warranty service for the two aforementioned issues before the screen failed, but having moved from Central Florida to Southern Ohio, the nearest Apple Store is a two-hour trip away, making a potential replacement more of a hassle than it was worth… for moderate issues. A screen crack, however, is a different story.

This isn’t the first cracked iPhone 4 I’ve seen, though the stories are all a little different—some are seemingly more user-related than others. Less than a week after she received it, my wife dropped her iPhone 4, leaving a nasty gash in the rear glass cover, thankfully sparing the camera module. Other people I know have had similar issues after drops. The difference in my case is that I didn’t drop the phone. Mere minutes after using it for app testing, after which it had been resting on my desk, I slid the phone in my pocket and walked downstairs, only to pull it out and find this:


Unfortunately, I’m not alone among iLounge’s editors in needing an iPhone 4 replacement. Only one of our iPhone 4-owning staff members has made it through a full year without a replacement; three others have needed to take their iPhones in one, two, and three times, respectively. Most of the replacements have involved out-of-pocket $29 charges for shattered back glass, which our editors have dealt with repeatedly despite the use of seemingly protective cases. The only editor who hasn’t had a problem—yet—is the one who primarily uses a rubber-lined CandyShell Flip case. Thin shells and thicker hard plastic-lined ones haven’t done much good against drops.

But my iPhone 4 hasn’t been dropped in a year. So was the crack in its screen just bad luck? Or a production problem that only rears its head after long-term use? I’m not sure. Apple initially seemed to write off the scratched faces of original iPod nanos as user problems, only to be held responsible for them later in a wide-ranging class action lawsuit. It’s unclear whether I’ll be asked to pay $199 for a screen replacement—Apple charges more to fix the iPhone 4’s front than its back—or whether a swap will be free of charge. If a class action suit winds up covering all of these glass problems, two more years may pass before users who were charged $29 to $199 for replacements will get some or all of their money back from Apple.

Today, all that’s clear is that I’ll be making a two-hour trip this weekend, and Genius Bar gods willing, I’ll be able to keep on using my iPhone 4 through the duration of my two-year contract. If not, I’ll be left hoping that Apple releases the iPhone 5 sooner rather than later. Maybe that’s what Apple was hoping for when it created this easy-to-break glass-bodied phone. But speaking as the latest beneficiary of its “highly recyclable” engineering, I strongly believe that a wholesale redesign of this enclosure is seriously overdue. This is a great phone trapped in an overly fragile body, and it’s time for Apple to bring the durability of its iPhone enclosures up to par with the sophistication of the components inside.

Readers, have you had any experiences with cracked or broken iPhone 4 glass? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Had an iPhone 4 since launch in the UK. I’ve not exactly been careful and I’ve not used a case. No major cracks or blemishes have developed on it. IMO, if you drop it and it’s damaged, that’s your fault not the phones. Couldn’t say about your apparent spontaneous crack though.

Posted by Jonathan on June 29, 2011 at 10:46 AM (CDT)


Sounds like a ploy to sell AppleCare for iPhone. I’ve certainly needed mine for my 3GS, due to cracks in the rear casing appearing without obvious cause. (Suspiciously, these all started at the corner of any opening in the case, e.g. the bottom Dock Connector.)

Posted by Farnsworth on June 29, 2011 at 11:20 AM (CDT)


I’ve had my iPhone 4 since launch, no cracks or smashes. I have had screen protectors on front and back, and am currently using a SwitchEasy Capsule Rebel which has been great so far.

One of the guys at work however, has a cheap rubber case on it, and doesn’t treat it gently at all. He has thrown it repeatedly onto the desk from at least a foot, thrown it at a wall, which left a dent in the wall but not a mark on the phone, and thrown it across a room. Still fine!
We’ve concluded that either he has the strongest iPhone 4 in the world, or the case is some kind of super material only meant for government use!

Posted by Chris Cooper on June 29, 2011 at 11:20 AM (CDT)


I treat my phone pretty well, but i’m not super careful. My philosophy is take care of your stuff, but don’t obsess over it.  Things get dinged and damaged - it’s part of life. To date, no cracks and a few scratches, but i’ve been pretty impressed at how tough the phone is, considering it’s a glass box. I have the free apple case, and I used it for a while, but recently removed it because I like the feel of the phone better without it.  It did a weird thing to the metal band , which is now slightly discolored. 

I’m a big fan of iLounge, but i’ve always been amused by the obsession with super-protective cases that the reviewers here have.  I have no case at all on my iPad, never had a case on my 3G (except the mo hoe juice pack when I was traveling) and minimal/no case on my 4, and have had no regrets about those choices…

Looks like a stress crack to me - like the phone body was twisted at one point and maybe a slight bump started it fracturing.

Posted by Domarch on June 29, 2011 at 11:39 AM (CDT)


Thanks guys, this is exactly the kind of article I wanted to see just two weeks after buying one myself! :-)
Don’t know about the iPhone 4 but the fourth generation iPod touch may as well be made of porcelain. Nearly everyone I know who owns one has a cracked screen.
I just retired an iPhone 3G with a sleep button that felt mushy from day one and only seemed to get worse.

Posted by Paul on June 29, 2011 at 11:40 AM (CDT)


If you drop it or sit on it in your pocket them that’s on you ,it’s not the fault of the phone no matter who makes it ,if your clumsy get a case ,if not then one needs to deal with life’s little bumps.*

Posted by John on June 29, 2011 at 1:26 PM (CDT)


Had the iPhone 4 since launch day - no case, no screen protectors.
I generally keep it in my front jeans pocket and it’s absolutely fine - no cracks whatsoever. 
If 4 out of 5 ilounge editors have damaged theirs then I’d suggest perhaps your offices are cursed or something…

Posted by Rupert on June 29, 2011 at 1:38 PM (CDT)


I’ve had my iPhone 4 since day 1. On that day it went into a $30 rubber wall-and-side case. After 8 months the case was stretched out a bit at the bottom so I replaced the case with something similar (iSkin Solo). Since replacing the case I’ve dropped the phone three times onto concrete or asphalt - once from my pocket while running. No scratches, no cracks. I think a key element to case selection is avoiding flush-face models. I’ve always had ones with a raised edge. This makes sense to me to protect the sides of the face plate.

BTW I also have an original iPod Touch. I did crack it’s face in year two of ownership when I sent it tumbling down a flight of concrete stairs. No case.

I totally understand why some people want to keep their phone au naturel. It is a beautiful piece of hardware. But if you want it to show off expect to treat it like any other luxury product. Do you take your Ferrari off-roading?

Posted by Chris on June 29, 2011 at 1:58 PM (CDT)


I have a Root zebrawood case and have never had a problem in the week that I have owned my Verizon iPhone (I jest). Cases should offer full coverage of anything that can hit by the ground on a drop. If you like to see your iPhone then just do what I did and get a case that you like to see even better. You won’t regret it.

Posted by Jiji on June 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM (CDT)


I’ve had an iPhone 4 for 1 year and other than minimal scratches and basic wear-and-tear I haven’t had any issues. Every once in a while I’ll put it in a case, but after a week I’ll take it off and find myself newly amazed at the gorgeous design of this phone.

It’s true, it takes a lot of care, attention and good luck to keep the iPhone 4 in good condition, but for a device this impressive it’s absolutely worth it. Let other companies produce the throw-around, rugged phones that people don’t have to give two thoughts to. Let Apple produce a device that still causes me to take a pause every time I take it out of my pocket.

Posted by SKZA on June 29, 2011 at 5:32 PM (CDT)


I’ve had the iPhone 4 since it’s release date. I’ve had several cases because some don’t allow you to charge or play music in the car with the case on. Removing the case for this can be problematic depending on the type of case. I still have the 3G and have had no problems with cracked screens on either of them. (knock on wood) Hopefully this will be the case (no pun intended) until the 5 comes out, I love the phone in spite of periodic inconveniences like dropped calls or weak signals.

Posted by 5thwarder on June 29, 2011 at 9:48 PM (CDT)


Had my iP4 for around 9 months.

Various cases have come and gone. Currently I have a bumper and a rear Gizmobies skin on it.

For 6 months I was lucky. Then I decided to go sans case. 3 days later I had chips out of the edges of both front and back glass.

I agree. The design needs a rework. My 3GS looked like new the day I sold it. Went wining a case almost entirely in the year I had it.

Love tuis design to look at. Don’t like its obvious design flaws.

Posted by Handsome Dan on June 30, 2011 at 6:22 AM (CDT)


no problems in 1 year with my iPhone 4.  But partner had hers just 3 months and dropped it about 1 foot onto a wooden floor with apple bumper case.  The front screen completely shattered.  Took it to apple store and got immediate replacement.  Given this behaviour I wonder if SOME have been from bad manufacturing batches.  I don’t think a screen should shatter completely - especially after a fall like this and with a (flimsy admittedly) bumper.  I think that’s why it was replaced so readily

Posted by LIntonlad on June 30, 2011 at 8:41 AM (CDT)


I managed to drop mine from about 30cm after only 3 days and chipped the corner. Luckily it was small enough to be covered by a bumper. Since then, I’ve never been confident to carry it around without a bumper or case on it.

I’ve just had my 11 and a half month old phone replaced because the slepp/awake button “sunk”. Having a new phone just make me realise how tired my old phone was. The problems I had, haviong to hit the home button numerous times, were not software related, but actually a knackered phone.

great bits of kit, but they’re a bit high maintenance.

Posted by Robin on June 30, 2011 at 10:25 AM (CDT)


Maybe iLounge should cover those 3rd party replacement backs that are made of aluminum…

but no cracks for me and I’ve dropped my iP4 (with case) a few times

Posted by jare on June 30, 2011 at 1:23 PM (CDT)


2+ years with 3G, no breaky until one week before retirement.
iPhone 4 since day one, not broken yet.  If you want something that’s better in this regard, see if iPhone 5 goes to more metal/plastic.
Or, get a crappy other phone that may last as long, but isn’t as good in other ways (IMHO)
Nothing is perfect.  I just know I have to be very careful with my iPhone…
OTOH, my wife keeps washing iPod touches in the wash, in spite of my magnetic sign on the washing machine “Do NOT wash iPods!”

Posted by sb on June 30, 2011 at 7:42 PM (CDT)


I am always puzzled when I read stories about mysterious cracks or defective products. I know they exist. I have been an Apple user for 12 years and I am very impressed with the quality of Apple’s products. I am sure you take care of your phone however, a crack on the glass? just from being in your pocket? It sounds shady and very suspicious. I have dropped my iPhone 4 numerous times on a bare floor and a ceramic tile floor at that and I am amazed at the fact that I do not have one scratch on it and this is without a case to protect it. Surely there must be an explanation for your issue. Perhaps your jeans are too tight or you put it in your back pocket or something.

Posted by Frank Santana on June 30, 2011 at 10:27 PM (CDT)


I’ve had my iPhone 4 since around October 2010, and it has been dropped a few times, never severly, and never without a case (either a Speck Pixleskin HD, which I got for free in the case program, or an OtterBox which I use at work for protection from greater damage and water). I’m very careful with it, but I alway knew that it was delicate as glass (ha!) so I hardly ever use it without a case. Which is a shame, because its a beautiful device. If only it was made of super high quality plexiglass to preserve the look, or hell, if the damn thing was aluminum it would be close to perfect. But as it is, I’m just going to be careful. My vibrate motor has been performing very poorly though, so I’m considering un-jailbreaking and seeing if that is covered on warrenty

Posted by Nick on July 1, 2011 at 3:29 AM (CDT)


I’ve been playing my iPhone recently through my Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini and had the same “popping” noise problem you’ve mentioned. I was about to send it in for warranty until I realised that it was my iPhone that had the issue. I also noticed that when I attempted to play music through my partner’s iPhone there was no popping sound. I was just lead to believe that it was a software issue because he hasn’t updated his iPhone for some time now. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that my iPhone is giving out as opposed to my high quality speakers.

Posted by Michael W on July 1, 2011 at 3:33 AM (CDT)


I have no clue why/how Apple could not have seen this flaw coming a mile away when they introduced the iPhone4.  And it was the reason I did not upgrade from my 3G.  I decided to skip this iteration and wait to see what comes next.  And I am glad I did, because I don’t care what you call it, Gorilla Glass or Ironsides, it is GLASS and glass breaks!  It requires a case of some sort, which is no big deal in that 99% of iPhone users I have noticed have a case on their phones and it is a billion dollar industry but it is REALLY a necessity on this model.

Posted by Glenn on July 1, 2011 at 8:32 AM (CDT)

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