iPhone 4 Design Flaw Could Lead to Epidemic of Cracked iPhonesS

When the iPhone 4 free bumper program finished a week ago, Antennagate ended. But Ryan Block reports that the iPhone engineering team has discovered another major design flaw that could lead to another iPhone 4 scandal.

While we've had our own concerns over the iPhone 4's glass back, what the iPhone engineering team discovered post-Antennagate, according to Block, is that non-bumper cases that slide onto the iPhone 4 can cause scratching when particles get between the case and the glass. Those scratches can lead to serious cracking in no time.

So if somebody puts a slider case on their phone, there's a possibility the next time they pull the phone out of the case, the back is totally busted, solely because of this design flaw. The potential issue's dire enough that Apple had blocked all third-party cases from the Apple Store until this week, even ones certified "made for iPhone." And Block hears that the engineering team has built a lab and test program just to examine this problem.

Pulling cases from the shelves screws manufacturers who designed and built slide-on cases, and who pay Apple a cut—long rumored to be 10-15 percent—to get the Made for iPhone badge, which allows the cases to be sold in Apple Stores (a hotly desired retail channel, for obvious reasons). Block says they're now "all but dead in the water," and it's possible they might not see their product back in Apple Stores at all. Apple's not telling the manufacturers when or if it'll happen. In the meantime, slide-on cases are still sold elsewhere, and people are still buying them, meaning we could be seeing a lot of cracked iPhone 4s. (Besides all of the clumsy people dropping them.)

Combined with the iPhone 4's antenna flaw, a lot of things make a lot more sense now. Why, in part, the bumper cases are designed the way they are. (There's no contact with the glass back, and it covers the iPhone 4's antenna.) Why there's been a relative dearth of iPhone 4 accessories on shelves. And why the WSJ reports that the next iPhone will have an entirely different form factor— to solve the problems inherent to the iPhone 4's design. Like Block says, don't expect the next iPhone to have a glass back. Or a weak spot in the antenna. [gdgt]