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iPhone 5S: Apple Needs to Fix the iPhone 5 Scratch Problem

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The iPhone 5S will reportedly look just like the iPhone 5, but if the wear and tear visible on an iPhone 5 after seven and a half months is any indication of how the design ages, Apple needs to find higher quality materials.

When Apple announced the iPhone 5, the company made a big deal about the new anodized aluminum construction and the chamfered edges calling the precision more like that of a finely crafted watch. The iPhone 5 uses the same aluminum as the MacBook Pro line of notebooks, but the anodizing wears off way too quick.

Unfortunately for users, after “A crystalline diamond cuts this beveled edge.”, the iPhone arrives in the real world where mundane actions such as inserting headphones can cause glaring scrapes that detract from the overall finish.

The iPhone 5 chamfered edge scratches too easily.

The iPhone 5 chamfered edge scratches too easily.

My iPhone 5 has been in a case of some kind for 99% of the time I’ve owned it. This past weekend was the first time I’ve taken the iPhone 5 out of the house for back to back days without a case.

Even with a case on, the chamfered edge of the iPhone 5 shows significant wear after almost 8 months. So much wear that I have to wonder how it will look at the end of a two-year contract. The iPhone 4S’ glass back may be fragile, but even after a year of use my iPhone 4S looked like it came right out of the box.

The images above show the damage to my iPhone 5 from daily use. There are small scratches on the sides of the iPhone 5 and along the chamfered edges and other areas of wear.

It’s odd to see the scratches on the iPhone 5 as Apple makes a big deal about the design and quality of their mobile devices. Apple describes the design process in the video below.

Even though I preferred the iPhone 4S’ resistance to scratches, the iPhone 5 survived multiple drops without breaking. Most were in a case, but over the weekend a case-less drop caused damage to a small section of the screen. Still, for a face down drop from a pocket to blacktop the iPhone 5 survived well. The scratches shown here are all pre-drop.

Apple is clearly using components and design principles that allow the iPhone 5 to survive abuse, but the iPhone 5S needs a better anodization process or slight design changes that deliver better protection from the day-to-day use, especially for users who are already trying to protect the iPhone with a case.

iPhone 5 Scratches - iPhone 5S Improve -  1

We’ve already seen alleged iPhone 5S back, which looks a lot like the iPhone 5 and analysts are calling for an iPhone 5S with a similar design. It’s quite likely that the iPhone 5S will scratch just as easily, meaning this problem will scratch on for the next several years as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S predictably wind their way down to replace the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.

The anodized aluminum is normally resistant to scratches, and adding colors to the aluminum doesn’t impact this resistance to scratches. In the video below, Bill Hammack describes how Apple uses this process to add color to anodized aluminum and how this delivers toughness.

Here’s hoping Jony Ive can take the stage and tell us that the iPhone 5S’ chamfered edges are now stronger, and less susceptible to scratches, as part of his sales pitch for the next flagship iPhone.

Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

17 Comments

  1. Noname

    05/07/2013 at 1:20 pm

    You’re way too picky. The iPhone 5 is much more durable than the iPhone 4S. You can drop it many times and you will still have an intact screen. It’s lighter so you shouldn’t drop it as much either. And the back has more grip. AND it’s longer so there’s more to hold onto. You’re iPhone won’t look perfect after 8 months of use. A scratch here or there is normal and really not worth writing an entire article on the everyday wear of the world’s most portable electronic device……

    • Tony

      05/07/2013 at 5:17 pm

      I don’t know, the pictures above look like more than a scratch here or there. The wife’s iPhone 4S sure looks better than my adult son’s iPhone 5 after the same amount of time. Considering the price of an iPhone and Apple’s claim on quality, I certainly expect the phone to look better than the pictures above after 8 months. No, I’m not an iPhone basher, I have had them myself, although I currently carry an android. But I do think they should look better than what I am seeing, at least on the black version. I expect better from Apple.

  2. Eryk

    05/07/2013 at 2:36 pm

    Apple admit error? Hahaha

    you’re holding it wrong.

  3. William Hugh Murray

    05/07/2013 at 3:04 pm

    No sympathy here. First, though you have photos, I have my phone. Case free, naked, since the day one. Not a scratch. Two data points that cancel each other out. If Apple has only their own employees, they have more data than either of us.

    I have had every iPhone and the 5 is not shoddy.

  4. aaron

    05/07/2013 at 3:55 pm

    This is one major fix that will swing me over to the iPhone..idk how many times iv dropped my android phone and it hasn’t shattered..may the odds be with you iPhone 5s!!!

  5. Jack

    05/07/2013 at 7:16 pm

    50% of my family have iphones and about half of them have broken screens and scratched backs.
    The other half have android plastic phones and take the use and abuse better.
    It seems like while the iphone looks nice the materials are not high quality after all and that might be done on purpose so you keep buying new ones.
    Time to use plastic like the Galaxy phones or at least a case is a must to protect them.

  6. No Naam

    05/07/2013 at 7:45 pm

    Not to be funny but you mention dropping your phone on a regular basis. I’ve had a 2-3s-4s and now a 5 and dropped all my phones a combined total of twice. My 5 does have scratches but that’s not a huge factor for me. iPhones are maybe a bit too high quality and not plasticky enough but the galaxy looks like a tacky copy of the 3 to my eyes.

  7. Andy Cohen

    05/07/2013 at 8:59 pm

    The problem is that the iPhone 4s had a durable stainless steel band around the phone which did not scratch. Now the black iPhone 5 has an silver aluminum band which is anodized or coated with a black Finish. The black anodized finish is what is chipping and making the phone look horrible. The solution would be a bare aluminum band without black anodizing like is used on the white iPhone 5, or go back to the bare silver stainless band as used on the iPhone 4S and the problem will be solved. Bare stainless or bare aluminum does not chip. It is the black anodizing
    Process that is making a 2 week old iPhone look horrible.

  8. unjaye schmidt

    05/08/2013 at 5:41 am

    bought a white iphone 5 and have had it for 5 months, no chipping, no scratches.

    android pansies chose the worst way to justify their elastic plastic body.

  9. eliza

    05/30/2013 at 12:40 am

    I have a question in mind if i phone scratch, then its only the effect on display screen or its creating problem with i phone touch application?

    • Haggen Kennedy

      07/17/2013 at 11:36 am

      When my iPhone 4 fell and had its screen completely shattered, the disfigurement was pungent. I could barely see certain portions of the screen, but I have to admit: it didn’t affect the touchscreen in the least. It was a brutal smash, and yet my iPhone was perfectly operable, apparently unfazed by the fact its screen looked like a 500-piece puzzle. So I have to say, there’s the effect on the display, but no, it creates no problems whatsoever for its touchscreen capabilities. Very impressive.

  10. aenflexaly

    06/11/2013 at 10:55 am

    I’ve had my white 5 for months, switched happily from the GS3 and Razr before that. I love IOS. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the white model, but let me tell you that the chamfered edge is quite prone to scratches and dings. I’ve kept mine in a TPU case, dropped it a few times, and I’ve got some nicks on the bottom egde.
    Also, Apple added a layer of paint over the black model’s aluminum. They didn’t actually annodize the black color into the aluminum itself. If they did, it wouldn’t wear off like ot does.

  11. Roach

    06/16/2013 at 12:31 am

    Love the iPhone 5 but definitely edges scratch to easy. Never dropped always in a case. Headphone jack scuffed charger port scuffed also obsorbes case rubber color leaves black sort of rub marks on edges. I can live with this. My issue is when I have to re-sell it. I know I wouldn’t buy a scuffed phone. Because of rub marks from various cases leaves me to ask my self no case for clean edges and no drop protection or case it and hope I can re-sell one day. Metel is way to soft.

  12. Tahan

    08/01/2013 at 10:45 pm

    I totally agree with the article. Black iphones 5 scratches and scuffs way too easy. I bought my iphone5 one month ago and from only a half way drop to the surface of an electric stairs in the mall it got scratched badly from the corner sides way too easily. A lot of people do get disappointed and sad due to this especially after a short time from buying their new iphones.

  13. Ray D

    09/13/2013 at 2:06 am

    I had my iPhone 5 for 1 day before it got a huge deep scratch on the front. Don’t even know how it happened. I never dropped it or anything. It’s my first ever smart phone and now all I can see on the damn thing is the scratch. Waaaaaa……..

  14. Christian S.

    09/15/2013 at 7:33 pm

    I believe this is why apple went with their “Space Grey”. The black was too much for the aluminum. If you notice its a very light grey coat (which I “LOVE”). Should fix the problem. :)

    • Christian S.

      09/15/2013 at 7:37 pm

      Apple has also updated their lineup of IPods and changed their black with “Space Grey”.

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