White iPhone 4 Delay Echoes Past Apple Issues

Apple announced July 23 that its white iPhone 4 would be unavailable until later this year. Apple's aesthetic demands and complex production techniques have led to issues in the past.

Apple announced July 23 that its white iPhone 4 would be unavailable until later this year. That represents the second setback for the smartphone, after a June announcement that it would be delayed until the second half of July.

"White models of Apple's new iPhone 4 have continued to be more challenging to manufacture than we originally expected," read a July 23 note on Apple's corporate Website, "and as a result they will not be available until later this year. The availability of the more popular iPhone 4 black models is not affected."

The accompanying "Buy iPhone" page lists the white iPhone 4 as "currently unavailable for order or in-store pickup."

If the current iPhone 4 manufacturing woes revolve around the color, it wouldn't be the first time the company's wrestled with its products' aesthetics passing quality control. According to Inside Steve's Brain, by Leander Kahney, Apple found itself confronted by similar issues with the first iMac.

"To make the iMac classy instead of chintzy, the team decided to make the computer's shell transparent," Kahney wrote in the book, which delves into the management style of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his company's comeback after its mid-'90s near-collapse. "But initially they encountered problems with spotting and streaking - the clear plastic cases weren't coming off the production line uniformly clear."

To fix that problem, Ives' team apparently visited a candy factory, "where they learned about [the] mass-production tinting process." That helped solve the issue.

According to Kahney, Apple's production techniques occasionally involve a higher degree of technical difficulty. One such process, dubbed the "twin-shot," centers on injecting two types of plastic into a mold so they bond together; the result is an iPod front that "appears to be made from two different materials - but there are no visible seams connecting them." The periodic shifts in Apple's design language, of course, often include a need for new manufacturing methods; the iPhone 4 represents such a shift in the company's smartphone line.

Given its longstanding propensity toward secrecy, Apple will likely never admit the exact reason for the white iPhone 4's repeated delays. In lieu of an official answer, some online news sources have offered explanations of their own.

"A worker from ... quality control department has allegedly admitted that the company's screen-printing workshop may currently be dealing with some issues with the white iPhone 4 covers," wrote tech blog Engadget in a July 18 posting, quoting from a story in the 21st Century Business Herald. "Specifically, the factory's still working out the perfect combination of paint thickness and opacity."

In addition to the white-casing issues, the iPhone 4 has also attracted controversy for other aspects of its design. After weeks of customers and publications complaining that touching the smartphone's exterior antenna rim can result in dampened reception, Apple hosted a press conference July 13 to announce that anyone purchasing an iPhone 4 through Sept. 30 would be eligible to receive a free rubber bumper that covers that part of the device.

In a July 20 earnings call, Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, insisted that the antenna-rim issues had not affected the iPhone 4's sales.

"My phone is ringing off the hook [from] people that want more supply," Cook told the audience of analysts and media. "We're selling everything we can make."

In the meantime, those in desperate need of a white iPhone 4 might consider buying a can of "Arctic Snow" spray-paint - although such a do-it-yourself project may very well void your warranty.