People in Glassgate houses

After Ryan Block’s “Glassgate” scandal-mongering last week, SquareTrade, a firm that provides warranties for a variety of devices, published a study of the more than 20,000 iPhones 4s they cover and found an 82% increase in broken screens compared to the iPhone 3GS.


Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on, Panicky McPanickman. Let’s read the fine print in that study.

Despite this troubling increase, it’s important to take the accident rate into perspective. Overall, the iPhone is still a very well constructed device, with a non-accident malfunction rate much lower than most other consumer electronics.

In SquareTrade’s previous study comparing smart phone reliability from November 2008, we found iPhones to be far more reliable than Blackberrys and Palm Treos. We will be updating this report soon, and we’ll have data on the latest Android phone models. It may yet be seen that even with the double glass, the iPhone has an overall failure rate that is still better than the competition.

Well, that’s really the important question, isn’t it? We already know it’s the best looking phone on the market. But how does that stunning good looks affect its reliability relative to the competition? SquareTrade doesn’t know.

Here’s the other reason this brouhaha chaps the Macalope’s furry hide: did people just suddenly notice after three months that the iPhone is glass on the front and the back?

See, even Adrian Kingsley-Hughes — who declares the front-and-back glass design a “FAIL” (caps and everything so you know he’s serious!) — knows that 1 + 1 = 2 and was thoughtful enough to ask SquareTrade “Does ‘screen’ mean front and back screen?” to which the answer was “Yes.” Which means that assuming breaks on both sides are approximately equal, the front screen is less likely to break on the iPhone 4 than the previous model.

It’s foolish to assume the iPhone 4 is just as solid as the 3GS. It’s not. But neither is it as fragile as a moth’s wings or Ryan Block’s feelings.

Besides general incredulity, I’m still waiting to hear a single response that credibly refutes this report. Gruber’s response, like the Macalope’s, was a total red herring; pretty much else has been ad hominem and/or stating I have no credibility for publishing something like this.

In the comments of that post, Ryan says “red herring” twice. Here’s the dictionary definition:

red herring: something, esp. a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.

The Macalope sometimes waxes poetic so maybe that was distracting for Ryan but Gruber’s comment seems fairly straightforward:

Color me skeptical too. Where’s the evidence that this is a widespread or even vaguely common problem?

To back his assertions up, Block links to — and here the Macalope must point out that he is not making this up — two online polls.

Web polls are obviously unscientific and strongly prejudiced by the audience at hand, but given the thousands of users claiming to have had this very problem, it sounds like it might actually already be a lot more widespread than even I had expected…

“Web polls are meaningless, BUT WEB POLL RESULTS LIKE THIS DON’T LIE (because they support my argument)!”

There should be a Godwin’s Law corollary for someone who relies on web poll results to prove their point.

When a commenter questions the wording of one of the online polls, Block responds:

I think I was pretty clear that I believe online polls are unscientific. The numbers still surprised me, though; I’d expected them to be even lower than they are due to how uncommon slide-on cases for the iPhone 4 are.

It’s weird how unscientific polls return odd or astounding results, isn’t it?! Why, in a recent online poll, 187% of respondents said there were frequently astounded by online poll results!

But let the Macalope try to be clear, here, Ryan.

  1. He believes you that a source inside Apple said this happens.
  2. He further believes that you got a third party case maker to back that up.
  3. He even believes it could happen! If you stuck a bunch of marbles in a titanium iPhone 4 case and then tried to shove the iPhone into it, yes, the Macalope imagines it might break.
  4. What he doesn’t believe — yet, anyway — is what Gruber doesn’t believe: that this is wide-spread. Or, apart from being wide-spread (which you suggest only isn’t happening because Apple’s “suppressed” the sale of slide-on cases), that it’s likely. Which is exactly his stance on “Antennagate”. Could it happen? Sure! But does it happen with enough frequency that it’s worth lighting people’s hair on fire with jerktastic terminology?
  5. And that’s the Macalope’s greatest exception to what you’ve written. Over and over and over again you say Apple is “suppressing” sales of slide-on iPhone 4 cases when what you mean is they’re choosing not selling them in their stores. Saying the company is trying to “suppress” sales of those cases inevitably leads people to think the company is trying to strong-arm other resellers into not carrying them. Is that what you’re suggesting? And don’t get the horny one started again on the “-gate” suffix.
  6. Added: Oh, and he doesn’t believe that Apple “has created a lab and large new test program specifically to investigate this further”. That just sounds koo-koo bananas. Are they looking into it? Sure. New lab and “large” test program? No. Maybe it’s happening, but a crazy claim requires more proof before people will believe it, Ryan. And, no, the Macalope is not asking for you to reveal your source as a commenter on your site suggests he is. He’s content to just go on not believing you.

Hopefully that’s less obtuse.

If you had written a piece that says “A source at Apple says these cases might cause the iPhone 4 to scratch or break in certain circumstances and, consequently, Apple appears to have chosen not to carry those cases in its stores.” we wouldn’t be here. Instead you chose to throw around loaded words like “Glassgate”, “suppress” and “block” and come up with fanciful scenarios where you “might buy a standard slide-on iPhone case, put it on your phone, and then discover the next time you take it off that the entire back of your device has been shattered by no fault of your own.”, as if it would happen that easily with one right out of the box. And then you lament how people have “misinterpreted” your story.

This is what leads us to think you’re trolling for page views. It’s not that we don’t think there might be some truth to your story, it’s your overblown approach. As the Macalope noted last week:

Is a glass phone more likely to break than a plastic one? Sure!

But resorting to online polls? Blogger, please.

  • Steven:

    Full of sound and furry and win.

  • Tech pundits linkbaiting? *GASP*

  • Sigivald:

    Is a glass phone more likely to break than a plastic one? Sure!

    In Apple’s case, comparing an iPhone 4 to a black iPhone, sure, that’s plausible.

    But everything I know and have heard suggests that the white plastic iPhones were very fragile – and that the issues with white poly aren’t limited to Apple.

    And of course plenty of non-Apple plastic phones have been fragile crap over the years…

  • David:

    Dear, dear Macalope,

    Would you please proof-read and clean up points 1 and 3 above. I love to read your prose at full-speed, and it hurts to trip over something in the process.

    I know, I know: the hooves! Maybe you could ask for a Pogo stylus for Chrismukkah, or whatever seasonal holiday is celebrated by mythical beasts.

    Thank you, as always, for restoring sanity to the Apple blog-o-sphere. Hey, will I see you at Jon Stewart’s rally? Omigod—ARE you Jon Stewart!??!

  • The Macalope:


    (Sorry about that!)

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