Slide-on cases scratching, breaking iPhone 4 backs?

Is the glass backing of iPhone 4 susceptible to scratching and breaking when used with a slide-on case under certain conditions? GDGT, the gadget-centric social site run by Peter Rojas and Ryan Block has sent out their latest newsletter with an article titled "With Antennagate over, is Glassgate next for the iPhone 4?" In it Block claims:

According to my sources both inside and outside Apple, after Antennagate the iPhone engineering team identified another potential design flaw that appears to have sent them into a quiet lockdown, and has them working behind the scenes in what's been described to me as something of a quiet panic to preempt any further tarnishing the iPhone brand. Apple has apparently found that non-bumper style cases -- specifically those that slide onto the iPhone 4, which are occasionally prone to particulate matter getting caught between the rear of the phone and the case -- can cause unexpected scratching that could quickly develop into full-on cracking or even much larger fracturing of the entire rear pane of glass. To put it another way: Apple is afraid 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.

He claims Apple engineering has gone into lockdown over the matter and Apple's trying to make sure no more slide-on cases make it into circulation, if possible.

Now I've used several slide-on cases for my iPhone 4 over the last few months and I keep in in my pocket where it gets all manner of particulate matter, and I've never had a problem nor has anyone here at TiPb (and we know our cases). However, even a few antenna videos became a huge PR problem for Apple and this could just as easily be another one depending how it pans out and how -- or even if -- Apple responds.

Of course, Georgia's been asking from the beginning why Apple would go with a glass back given all the associated risk that comes with it, even from an accidental drop.

In the meantime we're asking you, if you use a slide on case, have you had any problems?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Slide-on cases scratching, breaking iPhone 4 backs?


No, but I use the Apple bumper, and the inside has scratch a little bit of the steal antennae band around the edges. It's not a big deal but still annoying considering the point of a case is to protect the phone. Otherwise, why bother? Anyone else experience this?

I've had an Otterbox, a generic after market slide on cover, a silicon rubber cover, and the apple bumper on my iPhone 4 and I haven't had any cracks, scratches, or other Booboos.

well I have never removed the back plastic cover that the phone has on when opened(I didn't see the need, if it was going to be in a case anyway) I have had an incipio case on since so theres no way for the back to scratch
however, as I found out not long ago, this phone is not compatible with dropping in concrete!

I'm using an ifrogz black slide-on cover for my iphone 4, which I love. This is fortunate because I'm unable to get the top half of it off. This worries me a lot. It feels like it's stuck to the screen cover I put on both the front and back.

I tried the Incase Slider and it put some tiny scratches on the back and even scratched the steel band, I'm pretty sure this is because of how tight fitting the case is

Pretty much every snap-on/slide-on case for any phone that I've had ended up leaving some blemishes/scratches on said phone(s).
I have an OtterBox Defender on my iP4 and haven't noticed anything.

I would never use a hard case on the iPhone; Slide-on or not. Any hard plastic against the glass or steel (not steal) band could cause scratching on it's own or by dust getting between the hard case and the phone.
I have two semi-soft cases I use when the phone needs some protection from accidental drops. They're a little harder than the stretchy silicone skins, but soft enough to not scratch the phone.
However, most of the time I use the phone with nothing on it and keep it inside a micro suede sleeve in my pocket when not using it. It keeps it safe, scratch free, and I use it to wipe the screen clean.
Got it at for $10.

Block is wrong. This wouldn't be a design flaw of the iPhone.
The phone was designed to be used naked or with an Apple Bumper. Apple doesn't make the phone to fit third party cases, the case manufacturers design cases around the phone.
Apple can't be held responsible because the third party case manufacturer designed a potentially defective case for the iPhone 4 that could cause particulate matter to get trapped between the phone and case.
Just like Antennagate, this is not news.

@Michael. I got those same black smudges from using the apple bumper. I am now using the smoke incase snap on case and have not had any problems with it

This was why I decided not to get a slide-on case, and opted for an Otter Box Defender for my iPhone 4, which has been protecting it flawlessly, with no scratches or any other blemishes caused by the case. But it doesn't hurt to crack open the case every now and then, and clean out any dust or debris that may have gotten in there. I also have screen protectors front and back, for those times when I have to take it out of the Otter Box. So my iPhone is very well-protected. It does add some bulk, but the shock and impact protection is well worth it. Just bear in mind that the Otter Box does not provide any protection from water or fine dust; for that, you need an Aquapac or something similar. So don't drop it in the water, mud, or sand. PEACE

This is really not a problem for Apple. It is NOT a design flaw, as Apple designs the phone to be used as is, or with Apple created cases. There's always a risk that any case can cause unforseen damage to the phone, and that is just the nature of using a case. Antennagate I can understand, because I actually DO experience the known antenna flaw, but that is a problem caused by using the phone As-is, not with any 3rd party product. Problem for Apple? No. Problem for the third party case sellers? You better believe it.

Listen to all of you defending the iPhone design here and saying the 3rd-party cases are at fault! The glass back is stupid. No other phone has this problem, therefore DESIGN FLAW!

@whsingleton Don't like it? Don't buy the phone. The back glass does not effect the functionality of the phone, it is only an aesthetic feature. Phone housings are just that, something to house the internal parts of the phone. It is up to the manufacturer to decide what they feel will best suit this need.

@whsingleton, don't try to say the same thing about the antenna issure, as that is a function issue not an aesthetic/durability issue.

I haven't had an issue with either antennagate or this new glassgate. But of course folks are gonna blow this out of proportion. My advice, make sure that you take your iphone out of the case and clean it once in a while.

I still have a 3GS cuz I don't want to buy a phone made out of so much glass. If apple never makes another phone with a metal case, I'd rather switch to droid.

Yes, I used a case on the back of my iphone and i have a permanent death scratch...switched to a free bumper

"Don't like it, don't buy the iphone"? Actually, I thought the glass back was neat at first, but as I have had to live with it, it is more and more getting on my nerves.

Yes. Everyone this is a real problem!!! Sell your iPhones now while the glass isn't broken! Less stress on AT&T's ghey network and more for me. Thanks.

Ok well this is nothing new my iphone 1st gen,3G,3GS all scratched the glass along the sides. My iphone 4 has not because of using a different case. That I used for the others.

Not sure which one it is, but I got the clear in-case snap on cover when apple was doing the free case deal. Phone has been well taken care of with no drops or bangs. I too take the case off to clean the phone. Found a crack in the rear glass on the thin part by the camera... I don't think it's a case problem... I do think the glass is too thin there (considering how much they advertised the strength it was supposed to have).

I use an Incipio Feather case and have no issues with scratches. Every once in a while, I remove the case and clean things up, then the case goes right back on. Love the iPhone 4 design over all the previous models.

Use an Invisishield front and back, and switch between a Defender, Commuter and issues whatsoever.

The glass back was a STUPID idea. I just can't imagine how Steve jobs did not say WTF when he was presented with the idea. You can blame the antenna on others but the blame for the glass back is on Jobs.
Apple put more emphasis on design than function when designing the iPhone 4. As pretty as it looks, we end up having to put a bumper on it, which changes the look and feel of the phone completely.

I like the design of the iPhone WITH the back glass. All of you toddlers who aren't old enough yet to have a big boy phone that plenty of us adults enjoy, should go get yourself a nice shiny plastic piece of Android love and stop posting stupid stuff on Apple news related sites.

I had this happen with an ifroggs case. I got a scratch right across the back glass AND camera lens. On further inspection I had a rather large piece of sand stuck in it so I can't really blame the case or apple. Also, the scratch was off center enough not to effect picture quality.

I love my iPhone and it's design. As I do not use a case I have some scratches on the back of my device but it's to be expected. However, for all the scratches that have accumulated (an will still accumulate :)) there isn't one on the face. Not one. Nada. I find myself wondering why they didn't apply the same glass on the back as they did on the front with appears to be much more durable. Cost? I would've paid a little more for that difference (or maybe AT&T would've been nice enough to subsidize that for me - ha!)
All in all the majority of people I know (including myself) are pleased with their purchase and those who weren't got another phone. What a concept. :D

My Apple engineered bumper has also scratched the metal antenna on my phone too. I wonder if Apple is gonna offer early adopters of the 4 a good deal on next year's model since they've effectively dropped the ball at every turn with this year's model?

Hi, I just purchased a Speck Candyshell for my iPh4, anyone has any issues with scratches on the phone with it?

If Apple intended you to use a goofy case, they would have supplied one.
One of our techs at work used his 3G screen as a light to see his car's engine. It slipped down, fell on the exhaust manifold and the back of the case partially melted. I assumed the new glass design was a fix to my deep concerns over OldsmobileGate.
Oh and Block- your conjecture, supposed 'secret sources' and lack of any meaningful proof thru any sort of research (like rallies outside of your local Apple Store over shattered phones or case makers jumping out of windows) reminds us all why most of us never care about anything we see on the Internet until cross verified. That being said, PM me if anyone wants pictures of the melted and then sanded 3G. We still use it. :)

Yes. A case could damage the back. I just had my back replace by apple because it had a small crack. According to the tech at the apple store my otterbox case contributed to the back beginning to crack by allowing particles of dust give pressure to the back plate. Causing it to crack.

I bought a slide on cover around 2 weeks ago! Kept it on for the full 2 weeks haven't dropped it or anything took it off and the back glass is completely shattered, I have had to put it back on until I can get it replaced and then I will no longer be using the cover.