What Factory-Scratched iPhones Tell Us About the New Apple

Black iPhones scratch so easily that some ship straight from the factory with visible scuffs. What does it mean?

Anders Bylund
Anders Bylund
Sep 25, 2012 at 7:30PM
Technology and Telecom

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:GOOGL) 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.

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