SquareTrade: iPhone 4 glass breaks more than 3GS

Noted gadget blogger Ryan Block struck a nerve last week when he suggested that Apple’s iPhone 4 contains yet another potential flaw, one that makes its glass back susceptible to shattering. Now, independent warranty provider SquareTrade has published figures suggesting that the iPhone 4’s glass is more prone to breakage than that of its predecssor.

According to SquareTrade’s numbers, 4.7 percent of iPhone 4 users have reported accidental damage to their devices within the first four months of ownership; that’s up from 2.8 percent of iPhone 3GS owners over the same introductory period. Among those, broken glass is overwhelmingly the number one type of accident: 82 percent of iPhone 4 owners reported cracked glass, compared to 76 percent of iPhone 3GS owners. That works out to roughly 82 percent more broken screens for iPhone 4 users than for iPhone 3GS users.

However, SquareTrade doesn’t distinguish in these figures between the breaking of the front and back glass for the iPhone 4, meaning that one possible explanation is simply the increased amount of glass surface on the phone. The firm does say, however, that at least a quarter of the claims of broken glass “involved the back screen” and that the the majority of accidents only affect one side of the phone.

As for Block’s claim that particulates trapped in a sliding case can scratch the back of the iPhone 4, SquareTrade says its data doesn’t identify which—if any—broken screens were the result of that kind of damage.

Based on the data from the first four months, SquareTrade projects that the accident rate of iPhone 4 owners will rise to 15.5 percent at 12 months of ownership, compared to 7.8 percent of iPhone 3GS owners. That said, SquareTrade also points out that the iPhone 4’s 0.5 percent non-accident malfunction rate—roughly equivalent to that of the iPhone 3GS—is much lower than most consumer electronics devices, and more reliable than competitors such as BlackBerrys; the firm says that it will have more data on that soon, along with information about the latest Android handsets.

At the iPhone 4’s introduction in June, Apple claimed that the handset’s glass was 30 times harder than plastic and comparable to sapphire crystal; in its teardown, iFixit pegged the material as an aluminosilicate similar to Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which is supposedly highly durable and scratch-resistant.

While it certainly seems that the iPhone 4’s glass may not be as damage-proof as initially expected, it remains unclear whether the higher rate of screen breakage is due to just the fact that there’s far more glass on the iPhone 4 than on its predecessors. Like a piece of toast buttered on both sides, there’s really no “good” way to drop an iPhone 4.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon