It Can't Be Fragile, It's Not From Italy!

Today I’m reading a lot of guff about the fragility of the iPhone 4. It seems that SquareTrade, a provider of warranties, came up with some figures that purport to show that one is 82% more likely to break the screen of an iPhone 4 than was the case with

Today I’m reading a lot of guff about the fragility of the iPhone 4. It seems that SquareTrade, a provider of warranties, came up with some figures that purport to show that one is 82% more likely to break the screen of an iPhone 4 than was the case with the iPhone 3GS.

I’ve spent the last few months handling both devices; as skeptical as I am of manufacturers’ promises (oooh, aluminosilicate glass!), I’m not convinced this problem really exists. First off, the bulk of the claims appear to involve debris that somehow gets behind the device when it’s enclosed in a full case. I’m not sure how very small rocks would become wedged into that space in the first place, but you have to wonder how many of these people filing claims work in the gravel and aggregates business. I simply haven’t seen that many people using a full-wrap case for their phones when I’m out and about; bumpers, yes, but cases? Not so much, yet apparently, somebody is buying them.

Second, I find the iPhone 4 - when used with a bumper -sits more easily in my hand than the iPhone 3GS. I assume that’s because the glass back of the 4 “sticks” better to my fingers and palm than the plastic case of the 3GS does. The stickier, the better, in this instance at least. Also, the lightness of the iPhone 4 when compared to my older phones- a Motorola Razr V3m and a Sony Ericsson P910a that I own, but haven’t yet retired - makes it less likely that I’ll drop the iPhone.

Finally, the design of the iPhone 4 seems to help; being flat on the two broadest sides makes it less likely that you’ll set it on the arm of a chair, only for it to slide off. The massive bumper giveaway also seems to have helped; not only does it protect the edges of the iPhone’s glass from an impact, but keeps the glass off of surfaces that might damage it.

To back up my purely anecdotal impressions, I picked up the phone today and called my sister-in-law in San Diego; she is a gadget lover who is on her fourth iPhone. She’s had an iPhone 4 since launch day, and she didn’t leave the store without a bumper for it. She’s dropped her iPhone a few times in the last 100 days or so, and the bumper’s showing some signs of wear, but the phone itself is in very good shape. Nevertheless, she bought an AppleCare plan for her iPhone 4 as well as the bumper, and doesn’t regret either purchase.

According to SquareTrade’s study, 15.5 percent of iPhone 4 owners can expect to have an accident within a year of buying the phone. That rate is supposed to be two-thirds higher than for the iPhone 3GS, and is kind of astounding. My own field sampling (which is hardly a model of exactitude but is based on observations in the street, at bars, and on public transit) leads me to believe that I might see one iPhone of any model with a cracked for every 20 or so that appear good-as-new. I don’t think I’ve seen a single iPhone 4 in the world with a cracked screen, either.

My big take-away from this discussion is: buy the bumper, buy the AppleCare, and keep your phone someplace where it isn’t going to fall out when you bend over. But in the end, you’re paying for two thin sheets of glass with a phone in the middle; the sooner you accept the likelihood of a shattered screen, the less awful you’ll feel if it happens to your phone.