What Factory-Scratched iPhones Tell Us About the New Apple

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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) can hardly scratch its proverbial chin without stirring up controversy. And so it is that the brand-new iPhone 5 already inspired a couple of big complaints.

You've already heard all about the disappointing map app, and how iPhone users everywhere wish that Cupertino had stuck to its proven Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) map solution. But that's actually the less interesting complaint, because the other one speaks volumes about the new Apple.

Some reviewers noted that the black version of the new iPhone scratches and scuffs easily. Some users even report unwrapping their brand-new phone only to find it pre-scratched. That's hardly the kind of factory conditioning you expect from a high-end device -- especially when its designer is known for fanatical attention to detail.

I mean, you might recall that Apple refused to ship white versions of the iPhone 4 for several months, just because the plastic home button didn't quite match the shade of white in the surrounding glass enclosure. iPhones sport expensive Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) Gorilla Glass because Steve Jobs worried about his keys scuffing up a plastic screen in the pocket. The first iPhone was redesigned with glass covers just weeks before the scheduled release.

But that perfectionist mentality seems to be gone now. Phil Schiller, who runs Apple's marketing department, was confronted with the pre-scuffed iPhones. Instead of offering to fix the issue, he borrowed a different move from the late, great Jobs' playbook: "Any aluminum product may scratch or chip with use, exposing its natural silver color. That is normal."

That's more like the "you're holding it wrong" kerfuffle. It's not me, it's you. But even Antennagate ended up with a flood of free phone cases to mitigate the issue. We've seen nothing of the sort here -- at least not yet.

Sure, it's normal for anodized aluminum to show wear and tear. That's why I wonder if Steve Jobs would ever seriously consider using that material, especially in a mobile device that takes its fair share of rough treatment. Obviously, it's good enough for Schiller and efficiency-minded CEO Tim Cook. If star designer Sir Jonathan Ive put up a fight here, he was overruled. This from a company where designers used to hold more sway than engineers or cost controls.

"Good enough" wasn't good enough under Steve Jobs. That's changing now. Is Cupertino's new direction a turn for the better, or for worse? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Apple is going to need to stay vigilant and adjust its designs to meet consumers' needs. In our latest premium research report, our analysts have dissected the tech giant from every angle, giving you the opportunities and pitfalls that Apple will face. For less than a week's worth of coffee you, too, can gain an investing edge. Click here to get this premium report on Apple.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, and Corning. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Corning, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 8:46 PM, Paleblackness wrote:

    My guess is that Ive was the one who pushed for this, rather than the one fighting against it as you suggest. I don't think this says anything about a "new" Apple, and I suspect it will blow over rather quickly.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 8:46 PM, bsimpsen wrote:

    The first iPhone had an anodized aluminum back. The iPod Mini had, and all iPod Nanos have anodized aluminum cases. I think it's safe to say that Steve Jobs would seriously consider using "that material" in a mobile device.

    That said, black is the worst color one can anodize with, sharp edges are vulnerable and there is no excuse for bragging about quality you don't actually deliver.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 9:35 PM, artlaz wrote:

    Most iPhone owners buy protective cases of some sort. Changing from stainless steel to aluminum lowered the weight of the device and greatly improved machining time. In a world of plastic, Apple is the only manufacturer to make their phones of glass and metal. This is another tempest in a teapot. While not perfect, the iPhone 5 is, by far, the best cell phone on the market.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 10:47 PM, neamakri wrote:

    I have seen black chrome. Why not?

    Anyway anodizing comes in different flavors. There may be a better anodizing procedure with different chemicals...

    Bottom line, Apple needs to respect their own high standards and fix this issue ASAP.

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 11:51 PM, dpdenny wrote:

    you wonder if apple would buy out corning and keep the willow glass for there own products ,they would have a main supply and beat the the competition

  • Report this Comment On September 25, 2012, at 11:51 PM, MichalTod wrote:

    Apple, just like any other big tech company, has had its share of products broken on shipment. There was the yellow screen iMacs incident, security issues (even denying viruses exist on the Mac), issues with the various generations of iPhones, iPods, other Mac issues as well as software issues (iMaps is not their first software fumble). Apple typically has has denied the existence of these issues, deleted user complaints from forums, etc. So, I don't see this as an indictment of a post-Jobs Apple, just more business as usual.

    Written from my Mac Pro. :)

  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2012, at 1:22 PM, CluckChicken wrote:

    This behavior was less notable when there were far less people using their products. Now that they have far more people using their stuff there are bound to be more and more complaints and questionable behavior gets more coverage.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2012, at 12:23 PM, kramsigenak wrote:

    So well said artlaz. Authors of this type of article keep wailing away, "oh the horror!" And yet, we shall see how the device does visa-vis sales. I know I'll get one.

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