Much digital ink has been shed about the report
from a third-party insurer indicating more broken iPhone 4s than 3GSes in the first four months. The accident rate for iPhone 4 is 68% higher that the iPhone 3GS, according to an analysis done by SquareTrade, with as many as 82% of them having glass damage. While the numbers seem large, it's important to remember that the actual number of iPhone 4s with scratched, cracked or broken glass was 771: just 3.9% (which includes scratches from dirt inside slide cases). Despite the usual suspects hyping this as "Glassgate
," the reality - as is often the case - seems to be a bit less dramatic than that.
SquareTrade offers insurance for new and used iPhones (including mine) and other electronic devices. They wanted to see how the iPhone was holding up after four months, so they looked at accident claims reported by over 20,000 SquareTrade iPhone 4 warranty owners
[PDF] and compared them to the same number of claims by iPhone 3GS owners. 4.7% of iPhone 4 owners reported an accident to SquareTrade in the first 4 months, as compared to 2.8% of 3GS owners who made a claim in the same amount of time. As with the 3GS, screen damage was the number one reported problem with the iPhone 4: 82% of iPhone 4 warranty claims involved a cracked or broken screen, as compared slightly fewer (76%) of iPhone 3GS claims. So despite all the histrionics about this issue, the numbers don't seem all that far apart; especially when you remember that the iPhone 4 has 100% more glass than the iPhone 3GS
Kyle Wiens from iFixit
, who probably knows more about how the iPhone is built than pretty much anyone outside Apple - talked to CIO magazine
about the issue. He noted that there are other differences from the 3GS, such as the fact that the iPhone 4 glass goes all the way to the edges of the phone. Impacts on the edge can shatter the glass, Kyle explained, because the force goes directly into the glass rather than beige buffered by the bezel. Also, the "ultradurable" engineered aluminosilicate glass
on the iPhone 4 - touted by Apple as being "chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic" - is actually a liability in this regard. The stiffness makes it more scratch resistant than plastic, but also more likely to shatter than to bend, as plastic would. "Yes, the [iPhone 4 screens] are 30 times harder and so they're going to break more," Kyle said.
As it turns out, though, screen protectors do more than just avoid scratching, actually increasing the shatter resistance of the glass. Another third-party insurer, Worth Ave. Group, had a booth at MacWorld where they had passersby whack protected and unprotected iPhones with hammers
. Screens without a screen protector were easily broken, but iPhones that did have a screen protector were less likely to break.