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GlassGate: When Design Trumps Function?

Ryan Block of GDGT has opened up a giant gaping wound for Apple. In a post, When Antennagate is over, is Glassgate next for the iPhone 4, Ryan says that he has info that Apple is very worried that slip on cases can lead to that glass back on the iPhone 4 being cracked. Apparently Apple was so worried they but a block on slip on cases being sold and has opened up a lab to study the problem.

The issue seems to be that particles might be on the glass and the pressure caused when the case is slipped on can lead to breakage (glass is fragile after all) that might not even be seen until the case is taken off.

Apple may or may not have a major issue on its hands if this is indeed the case. It certainly smells like another PR problem given all the coverage of Block’s post. But the real issue points to the core of Apple’s design aesthetic. Apple makes pretty devices, but in my view the iPhone 4 is a disaster waiting to happen if you don’t have a case. I still wonder why so much effort is put into designing something that out of the box looks and feels so attractive, but immediately sends you searching for protection that hides all of the aspects of the design. Of course one answer for that is the hoped for one year life span of these devices (from the manufacturer’s perspective). I’m not arguing for ugly devices here because design is important. But in many ways when a company (not just Apple) talks about how beautiful a device is on launch, they are really condescending to the consumer knowing full well that all that design effort is going to be obscured by third party cases. Of course we all fall for it.

Intriguingly, I’ve always thought that the iPhone 4’s glass back was a test to see how well it holds up so that Apple can use some of those patents for a dual surface touch interface that we’ve seen in the past.

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3 Comments

  1. Roger J

    10/08/2010 at 6:32 pm

    Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a bit clumsy (AADD???), but I’ve tended to have a case on all my PDAs/Pocket PCs/smartphones to date.

    I’ve found the leather ones with a flip cover a bit awkward, my HTC Touch Pro 2 currently has a PDAir aluminium case. A few days after I started using last week, my HTC fell onto a hard tile floor. The case sprung open from the angle it made contact, but it took the brunt of the fall and my device was/is ok.

    I have been a bit concerned that the tight fit of the aluminium case might exert force inwards and crack the glass, I shall see.

    IF I get an iPad (now a possibility after Warner’s recent posting on handwriting on that device), I will be sure to buy a suitable case/cover at the same time, especially if the iPad has to accompany the stuff in my work pack (Redoxx C-Ruck).

    Reply

  2. Roger J

    10/08/2010 at 6:32 pm

    Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a bit clumsy (AADD???), but I’ve tended to have a case on all my PDAs/Pocket PCs/smartphones to date.

    I’ve found the leather ones with a flip cover a bit awkward, my HTC Touch Pro 2 currently has a PDAir aluminium case. A few days after I started using last week, my HTC fell onto a hard tile floor. The case sprung open from the angle it made contact, but it took the brunt of the fall and my device was/is ok.

    I have been a bit concerned that the tight fit of the aluminium case might exert force inwards and crack the glass, I shall see.

    IF I get an iPad (now a possibility after Warner’s recent posting on handwriting on that device), I will be sure to buy a suitable case/cover at the same time, especially if the iPad has to accompany the stuff in my work pack (Redoxx C-Ruck).

    Reply

  3. Sumocat

    10/08/2010 at 2:07 pm

    Your point on the dual-surface touch crossed my mind early on, but I never gave it real thought. I’m inclined to agree with you based on earlier precedent: unibody construction.

    The Macbook Air was the first Macbook to feature an aluminum unibody, but Apple didn’t announce unibody construction until later when they applied it to the rest of the Macbook line. The MBA, which was a bit puzzling at the time, appears to have been a test run of the unibody process with its strength being heavily tested by the Mac’s extreme thinness. If it worked for the super-think MBA, then it would work for the rest of the line.

    That said, the MBA was a separate product. If it failed, no real harm done. Apple should have done the same thing with the iPhone 4, but they tripped over SJ’s edict of minimal product SKUs. I would not be surprised if they learn from this and add a model to their regular iPhone lineup, something higher-end with experimental features aimed at early adopters. This would also help alleviate the stress of trying to be feature-competitive while also being able to keep up with monstrous demand.

    Reply

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