New ‘Glassgate’ problem might be developing for iPhone 4

Oct 8, 2010
Tech

The iPhone 4’s antenna issues are fading into the background, but now it appears another hardware issue is developing with Apple’s super-successful smartphone. A developing maybe-scandal dubbed “Glassgate” by the GDGT writer who first reported it centers around third-party hard cases that slide onto the iPhone. Those plastic cases have a tendency to scratch the […]

The iPhone 4’s antenna issues are fading into the background, but now it appears another hardware issue is developing with Apple’s super-successful smartphone.

A developing maybe-scandal dubbed “Glassgate” by the GDGT writer who first reported it centers around third-party hard cases that slide onto the iPhone. Those plastic cases have a tendency to scratch the shiny exteriors of iPhones as they slide on and off – a prospect which is nothing new and sort of to be expected if you own one of these cases.

The issue that goes on, according to GDGT’s citing of various unnamed sources, is that dust and particles of whatever get trapped between the hard case and the phone. It’s the rubbing of those little particles against the phone as the case is moved that does the scratching.

The potentially huge problem develops, however, when those cases do real damage to the pane of glass on the back of the iPhone 4. Apparently, those hard cases can scratch pretty deep, and just like a chip in a windshield can spread into a long crack and eventually become a danger, so too can a seemingly minor hard case scratch become a glass-shattering issue.

This is apparently such a big deal that Apple seems to have banned hard case sales from its stores, the GDGT story reports. And with good reason – Apple shattered its own sales records with the iPhone 4, according to PC World, and any additional shattering in terms of the iPhone could mean a huge spike in customer dissatisfaction and Apple dishing out fixes and refunds.

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Does this shatter any Verizon rumors?

This could be especially problematic on the heels of a rumor that Apple is working on a Verizon-ready iPhone for 2011. If that’s the case, maintaining the rabid Apple following until the release of that phone is a key marketing maneuver. Lots of talk about splintering, non-useable iPhones could help give Google an edge over Apple, since it has already gained some traction in recent months.

Despite iPhone 4’s massive success – it sold 1.7 million units in its first three days – one industry analyst estimates the whole antenna scandal cost Apple around 880,000 sales. You remember that story – the one that cited places on the phone that, when you placed your thumb there (in what looked like the common way you’d grip the phone while having a conversation on it), the phone’s reception bars would immediately drop because the antenna was blocked. Responding to an e-mail, Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously suggested the solution, “Just don’t hold it like that.”

Apple responded to the mishap, which blew up after that, by issuing free Bumper cases to iPhone 4 owners and offering limited refunds, to the tune of setting aside $175 million to deal with the whole issue. And those 880,000 sales lost probably mostly went to Google, Apple’s chief competitor when it comes to mobile operating system design.

At least right now, it seems Apple is getting out in front of what could be a relatively smaller, but still damaging issue. It’s unclear how many users are experiencing destructible iPhones, or whether the problem is widespread enough that the company might have to deal with it beyond the hard case ban. But if it does tend to be a big problem, expect to see Apple try to deal with it quickly and with maximum customer satisfaction. The company can’t afford to go into the iPhone’s next phase without a sterling reputation.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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