Is the iPhone 4 glass shatterproof?

There has been a good deal of debate about the strength and durability of the glass front and back plates on the new iPhone 4. I have to admit, I worry that this doubles the chances that I will scratch, crack or break my iPhone 4. Others feel that the iPhone 4 glass will be exceptionally durable with one person even mentioning that the glass will be bullet proof, similar to the glass on military tanks. I am not that optimistic.

Apple talked about the iPhone 4 face/back glass properties in their promo video:

"We developed a custom glass that’s comparable in strength to sapphire crystal but about 30 times harder than plastic. This glass is not only used on the front of the phone but on the back as well."

Sapphire has a rating of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, which is quite strong. Diamond (the strongest mineral) has a rating of 10. That being said, even a diamond is not shatterproof. If hit with a hammer a diamond will smash to dust. It can also chip or be damaged from a drop on the floor.

We've seen other chemically treated screens before, like Corning's Gorilla Glass, that promise very high levels of durability. Yes, there is a video of the iPhone 4 glass being bent about 20 degrees, and that is quite impressive. Though once the glass is assembled onto the iPhone 4 aluminum frame, when is this attribute ever going to be needed? If I drop the iPhone 4 on my tiled floor, its cute bending trick is completely useless to me.

iFixyouri state that they had their hands on iPhone 4 faceplates (no the whole phone, no the internal parts, just the faceplate). It's unknown if what they had represents the final production version of the glass, but they decided to drop test it anyway, face down, on a hard floor from 3.5 ft. After three drops the purported iPhone 4 glass shattered. They also claimed that the iPhone 4 has a design flaw which will cause it to be more prone to glass damage. This flaw is that the glass actually sits above the aluminum bezel as opposed to the iPhone 3G, which has the glass almost flush to the aluminum and is hence more protected by it.

If the iPhone 4 glass were shatterproof, wouldn't Apple have said so? Wouldn't Apple have demonstrated that in their video? We watched the glass bending, why not see it being struck or dropped and not breaking? (Perhaps even better yet we would have seen Steve pick up a AK47 unleash a round or two on the iPhone 4 and then gingerly pick it up dust it off and say, “now folks that’s magic.”)

Perhaps this glass is strong, perhaps stronger than any of the iPhones in production but shatterproof?

What do you expect from Apple's new glass? Have at it in the comments.

[ViaiFixyouri]

Georgia

Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, hosts the ZEN & TECH podcast, and should be followed on Twitter @Georgia_Prime.

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There are 57 comments. Add yours.

iphonemilk says:

First-
it's the same as any iPhone, period. Don't be reckless with your gadgets and drop them straight on the ground.
However, if you do drop it by accident, I know that i did several times with my 3Gs, and it never cracked. They are very Sturdy screens.

Jhunt4231 says:

I'd like to see some drop tests with the bumper case. Might be just enough to keep the glass from shattering when dropped flat on a hard surface.

Hahahah says:

I dont get the piont in saying first. Are there that many people out there that counting to one is an accomplishment? Anyway. Glass breaks. Period. Where is the mystery?

TumnusMr says:

I don't think this was a valid test since it was a hollow shell and we don't know if they got hold of the final production glass.
Looks more like a publicity stunt to me since they're a repair outfit.
It would also be very hard to demonstrate shatterproof materials (you can get a different result every time) and doing so would be somewhat reckless as it would almost be an endorsement from Apple to abuse your phone.

durangojim#AC says:

There's a difference between hardness and strength. This is why metal can't scratch glass, but won't break when dropped on the floor and why glass, no matter how hard, will shatter when enough pressure is applied to a specific small area. Take a nail and tap it lightly with a hammer on the iphone 4 screen and i guarantee you it won't bend, it will shatter.

howens says:

I've got to admit, I am a little concerned. Apple is known for quality, so let's hope that having the guts of the phone in it actually helps the front glass by supporting it.

ddot196 says:

Agreed. I've dropped my 3g tons of times and it still holds up really well. No cracks on the glass. Although this one idiot at radio shack dropped my phone about 5 feet in the air on accident and I now have a small crack on the apple
logo on the back.
I have to admit the iPhone 3g has been the most sturdy and reliable cell phone I've ever
owned. Previously I had t mobile and sprint am every phone I owned never lasted longer than 7-8 months. I swear they make those crappy phones to break and stop functioning after so long.

(Copy of) Dev says:

The answer is that it is not shatterproof. Apple did not claim it was, as they have enough lawsuits to deal with :)
Still, it would have been nice to hear some real world tests. I could care less if an individual sheet of the glass breaks or how resistant it is to a hammer. I would like an estimate of my phone's survivability if I drop it from pocket height or head height onto the floor. Apple is not about to make claims that way, but I am sure some review crew will jump into that breach in the next few weeks.

Andrew Elliott says:

My 3G has taken many a spill (well, not liquid spills, but...) and I've only gotten dust under the screen. No cracks, no nothing, nor on the Original iPhone I had before it (knock on chemically treated glass/plastic). I think there is an amount of luck involved with any drop. Develop habits as to how you handle you phone which can minimize the figurative--and literal--impact of any drops you might have.

Faulkner2391 says:

iPhoneMilk is right. I've dropped my 3GS at least 10 times on concrete. I don't use a case. And not a single crack or chip. If people are that worried, and can't afford a new phone if THEY break it they're probably living above their means to begin with. Get a cheap phone. If you want it, and you're so worried that YOU might break it (not that it will break) get a giant ugly case to put it in, and settle down. I don't know any electronic device that's made to be dropped and thrown around anyway. What's the big deal? The phone is amazing, and super hot. The glass adds to the beauty. I personally don't want to pay that much for a plastic piece of crap.

RobCal says:

@Ddot.
I thought i was the only one who noticed how reliable the 3g has been! not a crack nor scratch, and its been dropped tons of times, although only in my 8 dollar wal mart case, and not on concrete, but still has held up nevertheless. I just see this one being even better, when not abused

Travis L says:

My concern has always been in seeing how tempered glass operates. It is VERY tough (impact resistant) when impacted perpendicular to the face of the glass due to the residual stresses heat treated into the glass. BUT... I don't know how many people have seen what happens when you do a small tap with a sharp object on the edge of the glass parallel to the face. The glass that could take a hammer thrown at it (I've done it) previously will fail catastrophically with even a small tap. My concern is how well this glass will fare when dropped on edge. My guess is that the $29 Bumper or similar protection will be well worth it.

Dexter says:

Who actually said it was "Shatterproof"? I don't recall anyone saying that in the iPhone 4's introduction. Only in this article is it mentioned because it's assumed. Why is this even a topic? :\

pizzafootbal says:

If this becomes a major problem will apple have to make an iPhone 4.5? lol now that would be funny!

Meatsack says:

I think thats why Apple have all of a sudden decided to branch into cases especially as the bumper shields a very specific area of the phone and no other parts of it. kinda like making titanium hi-tops for Achilles. If there is one vulnerability in the glass Steve is gonna want to protect it.

Jeff Kirvin says:

The fact that the device was hollow completely invalidates this "test". When braced by the internal components, the glass panels will be much more durable. And that said, it still took them three tries to break the hollow shell. I expect my iPhone 4 to prove indestructible under normal use conditions (including occasional drops).

iPheuria says:

I think everyone forgets Apple is a company that likes to make money. The phone is not even out yet so everyone is trying to create hype about the phone and get hits for their site so they need catchy headlines. If the glass is easy to shatter 90-100% of customers are going to be bringing them back en masse that is not good for Apple's sales and profit. Apple as a huge company wouldn't overlook that point so I'm not worried until the actual phones come out and people start to really complain their screens have shattered from reasonable wear and tear, not the ones who will drop it while on a ladder 5 or 6 feet up, then I'll be worried.

Eric says:

Hardness (scratch resistence) and toughness (ability to take an impact) are two different things. Apple was talking about hardness. Put your iPhone in your pocket with some keys and the glass won't be scxratched. Drop it and it can shatter. The reason diamonds can shatter is because carbon atoms are lined up in a specific way where the atomic bonds are very strong in some directions, and not in one direction. Which is why they used a chisel and hammer to split diamonds for years. To polish a diamond, they have to use diamond dust, and they have to polish in a specific direction or the diamond will never take a polish. Even a diamond saw won't cut through a diamond in some directions, but does very well with the grain. Only another diamond can scracth a diamond - the mohs scale is based on what can and can't scratch something else from talc (1) to diamond (10) which is 1500 times harder than sapphire (9).
There's no confusion here. Apple was telling the truth. People just make all sorts of stuff up because they wanted to contradict Apple. Nothing new.

ChrisJ says:

i saw fewer accidents. edge will absorb impact before it hit glass. with old phone, impact was absorbed in glass and it shatter, yes? if fall flat, it may chip. chip is big concern. fall on corner not so much.
i will not shoot with gun.
remember man who was first to break ipad with baseball bat? who be first to break iphone with bat?

Rudy says:

So you buy a hard case cover for it. ...... What's that you say??? Oh you hide the nice glass back? So then don't buy the cover. Wats that you say? You don't feel comfortable laying it down because you may scratch the back? And you can't lay it face down? Lol better get the cover then and just tell people you have an iPhone 4.

Joe McG says:

It looks like the bumper will both protect the sides of the phone and hold the front and back glass off of the ground in case you happen to drop it just right.
I currently use a back case but have never used a screen protector. The front glass is still flawless. Screen protectors are a big scam. However the back of the 3GS will scratch and I like to keep mine in mint condition so I can sell it on Ebay every year and get a new iPhone for free :)

Locke's dead body says:

Not trying to sell anything(to you guys-I do sell them in a retail store!), but if you are really worried, get an Otterbox. I toss my 3Gs on the tile floor 5-10 times a day to demonstrate the toughness, and it doesn't have a scratch. We tried to add it up, and it has hit the floor from about 4 ft. about 300 times!! Tough case for a tough tough phone.

Araka says:

The only question I have is:
will it blend?

Mike says:

Do a lot of people plan on hitting their iPhones with a hammer? It's glass, people. Glass breaks. Whether it's an iPhone or not, you're carrying around a $500+ piece of hardware in your pockets, so be careful with it.

DoctorB says:

I've dropped my 3Gs down a flight of stairs (concrete) and nothing happened. Dropped it out of the truck, no issue. My brother's girlfriend dropped hers on a sidewalk and it cracked. She got a new one and dropped that one and it also cracked. I worry about the class on the front and back personally. Here's hoping...

abunk79 says:

Don't know how well it holds true for glass, but with bolts I can break a grade 8 bolt faster than a grade 5 because of the rigidity of the grade 8. If there is no flex something has to give.

ren says:

Here's the simple truth. Apple is selling the bumper because the iPhone 4 is susceptible to cracks when droped on it sides

Redshirt says:

DoctorB - so the moral of the story is to not give your iPhone 4 to the girlfriend? :)

BSmith4832 says:

@Eric Well said. You've taken the words right out of my mouth.
@Mike I'm with you on that one.

icebike says:

@Abunk79:

Don’t know how well it holds true for glass, but with bolts I can break a grade 8 bolt faster than a grade 5 because of the rigidity of the grade 8.

In metals,Hardness and Brittleness usually go hand in hand, as you have observed, but glass is a crystalline structure, and rules can be different. Chemical treatment of the surface can make the surface dramatically different than the internal portion of the same sheet. Gorilla glass is one such treatment. See Corning's page on this http://tinyurl.com/364tvn4 They push the chemical strengthening deeper into the glass than their competitors.
Edge on impact still poses a serious risk of shattering, and most shattered iPhone glass shows side impact. Rubber bumpers may help, but the thin-ness of the built in ones seems a bit suspect.
We will know if a few days if it will blend.

icebike says:

@ren:

Here’s the simple truth. Apple is selling the bumper because the iPhone 4 is susceptible to cracks when droped on it sides

Well said.

icebike says:

@Mike:

Do a lot of people plan on hitting their iPhones with a hammer? It’s glass, people. Glass breaks. Whether it’s an iPhone or not, you’re carrying around a $500+ piece of hardware in your pockets, so be careful with it.

Hammer? No. Most people use a far blunter instrument: The floor.http://www.mobimadness.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/shattered-iphone.jpg

frog says:

hahaha, bullet proof. Steve saw the "iPad: Will it blend?" videos, and got angry.

Anthony says:

@Icebike - Glass is NOT crystalline in structure, it is amorphous. At best it has a crystal lattuce over very short distances. This means the rest of your statement is just as bogus.

Jon says:

I'm with @Durango Jim, what the article is describing (the hardness) doesn't actually correlate to the shatter-resistance of the material. Cue the geologists to demand a correction to the article.

Glenn#IM says:

This is an old saying. Whatever man makes, man can break. Take the time to protect your iPhone with a case. Drop it unprotected, it will break sooner or later. I would be more concerned with what happens inside. What could come loose after dropped?

LozBlanko says:

No cracks here after several drops. I do have two specs of dust under the screen though. Hopefully the new design will stop that.
I reckon the protruding glass could be a problem but glass on both sides will be awesome compared to scratchy plastic on the whole.
If you pay this much for something, treat it with a lot of care!

Chiron says:

There is no such thing as a waterproof watch. Taken deep enough, the watch will leak, even if the person wearing it has been compressed to the size of an almond from the water pressure, and therefore doesn't care.
There is no such thing as shatterproof glass. Struck with a sufficiently hard and pointed object, glass will break.
The iPhone 4 also is not likely to survive a ground zero nuclear explosion, but if it happens, the owner of said iPhone won't be around to care.
The actual question should be "Will it hold up to normal wear and tear, and reasonable abuse?" I do wonder how resilient the unit will be, but that is something only time will tell.

AlfieJr says:

um, why does anyone believe iFixyouri? they did not video record their "test" for anyone else to see and know if they actually did what they say. there can only be three reasons for that:

  • no one there owns a camcorder or phone that can record video, or knows anyone who does.
  • they were too stupid to think to do this.
  • they are liars trying to get attention for their blog, and hit it with a hammer.

take your pick.

dtrujillo says:

why in the article did it say aluminum bezel when apple.com says stainless steel band in bold letters in the design pics?

Sarah says:

My husband dropped his first (original) iphone and cracked the glass. He then bought a 3G iphone when they came out and again dropped and cracked the screen. He lived with the cracked screen for a while until the cost of screen replacements became reasonable and had the screen replaced. I still have the original iphone with the silver back and have not cracked the screen. However, it has some minor scratches on the screen from when I put it in my purse with my keys. I am worried the iphone 4 will have double the chance at scratches (2 sides are glass) and my husband will drop his phone and get breaks on both the front and back. Maybe getting a bumper and a clear glass covering for the front and back will resolve these problems.

dielan44 says:

The new Invisible Shield screen protector is also aviable for the back of the device which looks promising. Also the bumper case will help since it is above the glass(if you drop it straight down when the iPhone is flat, the bumper will take the impact). Is this glass as strong or stronger than gorilla glass? If it isn't, why didn't they use gorilla glass? The world will never no... I do though... Apple is a bunch of control freak, it's there way, no matter what. Why is there no flash on the iPhone/Pod/Pad? So Apple make more money off Apps and iTunes. Can't blame them though... Everyone needs money...

fwhollie says:

The iphone 4 is NOT shatterproof! I dropped my by accident and the back glass shattered! I have only had it 4 days. I had the 3g before and dropped it many times and it never broke! Have to say i'm not real impressed with my phone now!

djd says:

Dropped it tonight. shattered. not just a little bit either, every single area on the front of the phone is shattered. BS

ChrisGareth says:

Had my iphone 4 a week now after upgrading from a 3g. Love the thing but as cool as it looks I feel this is an incredibly poor design.. the protruding glass on both sides is the issue (reception aside - which im not too concerned with). The glass has already started chipping on the top right corner after a small knock on the ground. Its ashame the metal band didnt cover the glass... i can't see this product lasting 2 years.. a real shame..

chelsea says:

i dropped my iphone 4 about two feet from a concrete surface, and it shattered. spiderwebbed the entire front. it is not shatter proof, and apple will not do anything except order a new phone at a steep price.

dave says:

Had a 3gs that took many spills and no damage! Had the Iphone 4 for 1 week and the back glass shattered. I don't understand the design change - It is not better and is more susceptible to damage - Glass and Hard edges. The rounded edges of the 3gs design were brilliant!! More comfortable in the hand and minimized the number of sharp edges which helped protect the device if it should be accidently dropped. I don't get it and DON'T like it. Though all of the apple employees are walking around the stores with their devices not in cases - I strongly suggest you put your iphone 4 in a protective case ASAP. It is not a question of will the glass shatter - the question is WHEN will it shatter? Good luck!!

Dage says:

Get a android , Apple Iphone is over rated

gregorypleau says:

@Dage: Android makes shatterproof screens now?

jtarde says:

Bought my iphone 4 2 weeks ago. Dropped it once....completely shattered the front.

michelle Gonzales says:

I have a shattered screen iphone 4. So much for indestructable.

Hans says:

Thanks for this article, I was looking for an explanation on this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elKxgsrJFhw
I though the iPhone was shatter proof, seems not.

Josh says:

It most definitely is not shatter proof. I have dropped my phone 2 times and both times it shattered. It seems like previous iPhones have been a lot less delicate.

Vasile Lucian BUJOR says:

Apple should use industrial Safire on both faces instead of that glass , and then, only then , would worth buying it.