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

Editorial: It’s Time For Apple To Fix The iPhone 4’s Glass Jaw 1

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:

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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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  1. I don’t what the hell you guys been doing but with a fully body body gaurdz protector and Apple bumper my iPhone 4 has survived tons of to sidewalks in NYC without a mark on it.

  2. I am still using my 3G with the Incase cover. Over two years now, always in my pocket during the daytime, face towards my body. No problems with structure. The battery doesn’t last as long but it is to be expected. I can get another battery for it from a shop/installed for $40. My wife has no problems with her iphone 4 though has protective cover on it. I am waiting on the iphone 5. I think how you treat your phone plays a big part of how long it lasts. IMHO.

  3. I have a rubber bumper on my iPhone 4 & have never dropped the phone, yet after only 4 months the bottom left corner of the glass cracked. Apple replaced it for free. Now I am having issues with the sleep/wake button sticking and that “popping” noise you mentioned. I will be making another trip to Apple. My daughter has an iPhone 3 that has had the screen replaced and the sleep/wake button “fixed” for sticking.
    There are definitely issues with these phones.

  4. I am still using my 3G with the Incase cover. Over two years now, always in my pocket during the daytime, face towards my body. No problems with structure. The battery doesn’t last as long but it is to be expected. I can get another battery for it from a shop/installed for $40. My wife has no problems with her iphone 4 though has protective cover on it. I am waiting on the iphone 5. I think how you treat your phone plays a big part of how long it lasts. IMHO.

  5. I have a rubber bumper on my iPhone 4 & have never dropped the phone, yet after only 4 months the bottom left corner of the glass cracked. Apple replaced it for free. Now I am having issues with the sleep/wake button sticking and that “popping” noise you mentioned. I will be making another trip to Apple. My daughter has an iPhone 3 that has had the screen replaced and the sleep/wake button “fixed” for sticking.
    There are definitely issues with these phones.

  6. using a switcheasy rebel, ive dropped my iphone 4 4-5 times, on asphalt, concrete, tiles and still have never had a scratch or crack.

  7. using a switcheasy rebel, ive dropped my iphone 4 4-5 times, on asphalt, concrete, tiles and still have never had a scratch or crack.

  8. Charles, I have talked with several people and have two iPhone 4`s i my house since its release. NO GLASS PROBLEMS> Is this a personal problem?

  9. Charles, I have talked with several people and have two iPhone 4`s i my house since its release. NO GLASS PROBLEMS> Is this a personal problem?

  10. I am like you, just a simple push of the power button one day and a crack showed up right where my thumb would be. Now mind you I am a small women who’s weight isno more than 106lbs. So it is not like alot of power was behind that push. I have not dropped my phone and I do have it in a case and notice alot of scratchs on the white part by my glass once I removed it from the case. Almost like wear but from what I have only had it since Oct and it has been in a case since than. I have my HTC Evo 3d for a year dropped and stepped on by my 80lbs 12 year old on accident and nothing happened. why am I having this issue with a crack that I did not cause?

  11. I am like you, just a simple push of the power button one day and a crack showed up right where my thumb would be. Now mind you I am a small women who’s weight isno more than 106lbs. So it is not like alot of power was behind that push. I have not dropped my phone and I do have it in a case and notice alot of scratchs on the white part by my glass once I removed it from the case. Almost like wear but from what I have only had it since Oct and it has been in a case since than. I have my HTC Evo 3d for a year dropped and stepped on by my 80lbs 12 year old on accident and nothing happened. why am I having this issue with a crack that I did not cause?

  12. I am one of the unlucky ones. I have had my 4S for about 5 weeks but have had other iphone since inception. Well the back glass on the 4S is now shattered. I had a case on it but I guess it was the wrong one even though it was made for the iphone 4 and 4S. Evidently some cases are the cause of the shatter. Hope others have better luck. I am now negotiating with Apple to get a replacement. Wish me luck!

  13. I am one of the unlucky ones. I have had my 4S for about 5 weeks but have had other iphone since inception. Well the back glass on the 4S is now shattered. I had a case on it but I guess it was the wrong one even though it was made for the iphone 4 and 4S. Evidently some cases are the cause of the shatter. Hope others have better luck. I am now negotiating with Apple to get a replacement. Wish me luck!

  14. I recently had the exact same problem with my iPhone 4. I have a double case on it. Rubber and a hard case, I may have dropped it a couple times, but nothing extreme maybe from a few feet on a rug. Yesterday I was scrolling through Facebook and heard “crack”. The lower left hand corner of my phone has a long hairline fracture. Very weird. Not many electronics are made for long term use, clearly. Annoying.

  15. I recently had the exact same problem with my iPhone 4. I have a double case on it. Rubber and a hard case, I may have dropped it a couple times, but nothing extreme maybe from a few feet on a rug. Yesterday I was scrolling through Facebook and heard “crack”. The lower left hand corner of my phone has a long hairline fracture. Very weird. Not many electronics are made for long term use, clearly. Annoying.

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