Regarding the (matte) black iPhone 7 and clickbait... er... paint complaints

I've been using a (matte) black iPhone 7 Plus, without a case, since it launched in September 2016. The anodized finish is still fine with nary a chip in sight. And I'm not gentle with my phone — it's been dropped and otherwise knocked about several times. Still, it would be a mistake to assume my experience is everyone's experience. So, I pay attention when I see something like this from an outlet like CBS News:

If buying the latest iPhone is a status symbol, what happens if the device ends up looking battered and cheap within a matter of weeks?Apple (AAPL) is facing that question as some disgruntled customers take its customer-support page to complain about their iPhone 7s in matte black, which they say suffer from easily chipped paint. Some iPhone 7 owners say they've been told by Apple that the paint is a cosmetic issue and therefore not covered by the warranty.Some might call it PaintGate.

Seeing the term "Gate" attached so quickly and loosely in what should be a serious story always hits all my clickbait alarms. Hard. But let's look at it anyway.

Anodizing for black

Black is a hard color to anodize. We learned that back with iPhone 5 in "slate black". Go too light and it's gray. Go too heavy and it might chip or become gloppy and lose the sharpness of its angles.

Apple was aggressive but not too aggressive with "slate black", so they got a black that wasn't super black but was still pretty tough. It chipped but not easily or often. (I had my iPhone 5 triple re-anodized, which made it tougher and blacker, though I still chipped it slightly some eighteen months later.)

There were a few complaints about it but all the anodization experts we spoke with at the time attested it was perfectly normal. Because science.

Still, it caused Apple to back off and go with "space gray" for iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6s instead. And then people complained it wasn't black enough. Because people.

So, with iPhone 7, Apple has returned to black. They also upped their already good anodization game to make the new (matte) black iPhone 7 even more resilient than the old "space black" ever was. It can never be perfect, though. It's chemistry and physics. Put a black coating on a silver metal and, if that coating gets chipped, you'll see the metal.

Sources and scales

Jet black can scratch. Glass black can fracture. Plastic black can crack. And, while even good black anodization can chip, bad black anodization can chip even more. So, does there appear to be a problem with the anodization Apple did on the (matte) black iPhone 7?

Apple sold over 70 million iPhones last quarter. The company didn't say how many out of those 70 million were (matte) black iPhone 7 but it's certainly a number in the millions as well.

That means, if anodization was an issue, we'd likely see a high volume of complaints, especially if it's a problem with the process in general.

CBS sites Apple Discussion Forums as their source for the story. A quick Google search turned up 3 threads, one from November 13, one from January 26, and one from two days ago. Out of the millions sold it'd be hard to say even a fraction of a percentage are reporting any problems, let along a systemic problem.

Sticking Apple and #gate in a headline is a great way to get attention, especially when all eyes are on the stock price today, but making up a controversy doesn't make a controversy. It only misinforms and mistreats consumers who deserve better, especially from respected outlets like CBS.

Asking around, I couldn't find anyone who saw this as a serious or even frequent problem in the field. It's simply not something a large number of customers are reporting.

To make sure I was understanding the issue, I also asked Greg Koenig of Luma Labs for his take:

Apple really solved the black [anodization] problem by learning how to embed a bunch of Teflon into the surface - this makes it more durable by letting hits skiff off instead of digging in and cracking the anodize layer (which is sort of like an eggshell of hard anodize around a gooey center of still-raw aluminum)The whole thing isn't -gate worthy. Anodize isn't delicate, but it also isn't an incredibly durable finish because of that egg-shell factor (Space Black DLC is so tough, partly because the underlying stainless [steel] is way harder)

Again, my (matte) black iPhone 7, used day in, day out, since launch is still fine. I'll keep an eye on it, and on reader complaints and Apple discussions, but I don't think we'll see anything other than the normal wear and tear we'd expect to see from a product anodized black.

Your (matte) black iPhone 7?

If you're worried about chips or scratches or any kind of damage at all, get a case or get a rose gold, gold, or silver iPhone 7 that better hides small imperfections. Otherwise, get what you like and enjoy it. And, if you have a (matte) black iPhone 7, let me know how it's holding up for you!

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

53 Comments
  • I guess Tim Cook deposited some money into your account again to write an article to downplay an issue with one of their products. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • "I don't agree. SOMEONE MUST HAVE PAID YOU TO SAY THAT!" What an incredible leap of logic.
  • Fandroid loser.
  • Or someone's paying you to troll… it could also be that
  • So you're saying that a fraction of a percent is a problem. This is the news trying to vilify the top dog as they always do. You need to go hangout in the android lounge with the other lot lizards.
  • Get lost, troll.
  • I have a scuff on 3 of the 4 corners of my matte black plus. One of those scuffs I got on day 1 taking the phone out of the box and unwrapping from the plastic - fell onto my hardwood floor from about waist level. I'm sure their anodization is tough but it can still scratch in normal conditions depending on circumstances and how it falls. I think it's less than genuine to readers and Apples customers to insinuate otherwise, no matter how much you love Apple and despise "gate" headlines used as clickbait.
  • It's amazing how a simple honest well written post will still bring out the 2 morons above. My 14 y/o son has a 7 matte black. Does NOT use a case. Takes the NYC subway everyday, drops it routinely usually in front of me getting out of the car. NO SILVER SHOWING NO CRACKS!!! Minor scratches of course. But the iPhone is STILL black. Wow imagine that. Idiots will still be idiots!!!
  • Drops it routinely getting out of the car and no silver? I don't believe that at all. Any of it.
  • I have a matte black iPhone 7 Plus with an Apple leather case on it. I don't have any chips on the exposed bottom.
  • I know it very expensive but it's just a phone! I always use a case on mine so you really can't see the paint job I have both the rose gold and silver with no issues my son has a matte black with no case and his looks pretty good for no case.
  • I have the JB 7+ and LOVE it! I don't use a case and it looks great! Yes, I have very small micro abrasions that you can only see at a very specific angle in totally direct sunlight on a super sunny day. So, basically you can't see them 99.99% of the time. Absolutely no chipping. I'm glad I got the Jet Black.
  • Congratulations.
  • My matte black 7 Plus has gone caseless most weekends since mid-October. And it's in almost pristine condition. I know two others with a 7 and 7 Plus, same finish. The 7 is unmarked. The 7 Plus -- owned by a klutz -- was pinched in a drawer somehow. (Yeah, I know!) It has a noticeable dent in the aluminum, but the black finish is intact. I agree that the supposed "issue" is severely overblown.
  • Wait, you can re-anodize your iPhone? How much? Sent from the iMore App
  • I have the Matte black finish and I love it. I have not had any problems with the finish on my phone and no scratches. I do use a case but no OtterBox or anything that offers that much protection. I think they are blowing this way out of proportion. Sent from the iMore App
  • CBS is a respected outlet? Their article typifies what is wrong with almost all news outlets - truth is irrelevant.
  • It's a "-gate" once all the tech bloggers devote an article to it lol. I mean seriously, why give these things attention? I hadn't heard it being called such until reading this article. If it's important enough to start getting coverage for or against, maybe it's important enough to take serious? My Matte Black looks great btw.
  • I've had a matte 7 plus since launch and it is mint , but I also keep it in a speck grip case and zagg glass.
  • Mine is still in perfect condition
  • Schoolboy error Rene, given you reference the official Apple support community why didn't you use the following search term?
    iphone 7 black scratch site:discussions.apple.com
  • Doesn't fit his narrative. Rene is just as bad as the media outlets he chastises. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Sometimes you need to take a look in the mirror to see the real bad people
  • I agree and I think you should tell Rene.
  • "Posted via the iMore App for Android"...there's a shocker.
  • I have to preface my comment with this: I just switched to an iPhone 7+ after being an android user for 8 years (my first phone came with Android 1.5), and I love it. The only thing I truly miss about Android is the staff at Android Central. The people here, especially in the forums, have been wonderful, and a great source of help. I just wish Rene would put away his pom-poms when it's warranted.
  • There's probably some quality control issues for the matt black coating. It seems most phones are not chipping.
  • Is in a case admittedly but mine is one of those holding up just fine.
  • Wow! About 1000 people (and I'm being generous here) complain in online forums about chipping and never stop to consider the other part of the equation. Out of how many phones? Around 10 million so far with the matte black finish?
    That turns out to something like 0.01%. At most.
  • How does that matter if its your phone?
  • You're right. It doesn't matter but if your phone came with scuff marks out of the box, as some have already insinuated, then instead of complaining on forums, should take it back to Apple and have it replaced.
    If it happened during use, then be careful with it next time.
  • "If buying the latest iPhone is a status symbol..." Unfortunately it still is, at least in some minds.
  • Chip Gate anyone.
  • I've put a case on all of my iPhones. The main reason is that they have gotten harder and harder fro me to handle. They all seem slick. Is that a complaint? Ah NO!!! Just an observance. I want a phone that just functions and does what I need it to do when I need it to do it and the iPhone has given me that in the most consistent fashion through the years.
  • My matte Iphone 7 is fine.
  • I simply got the TOZO iPhone 7 case (which I believe is the thinnest case available) and the the Spigen clear case and the flat black shows through on both cases with a nice effect. Also I use a glass screen protector on all my iPhones... just in case. The Spigen of course is far more protective than the TOZO... but the TOZO is there to protect the finish more than anything and does a nice job of that. I just think its better to be safe than sorry. I take great care with my phones, as I turn them back in to T-Mobile when a new iPhone arrives with my JUMP program. At the same time I don't like bulky cases... so the thinner the better. As long as the finish is kept pristine I'm good to go. My flat black 7 has no marks on it what so ever and looks like it just came out of the box. By-the-way, I have dropped it a couple of times.
  • I cannot BELIEVE my car paint chips when a road pebble dings it. Can I get a #X5PaintGate going please? Phones chip, scratch, scuff, whatever. So does pretty much everything else. Chill.
  • Crap analogy.
  • "Seeing the term "Gate" attached so quickly and loosely in what should be a serious story always hits all my clickbait alarms. Hard. But let's look at it anyway." As a Patriots fan we are used to this over reaction and hyperbolic reaction.
  • I have the non-plus iPhone 7 matte black. I don't use a case or screen protector (I like the naked beauty). I actually do have chips on the top corners that expose the aluminum. They are pretty small, but I am definitely not having Rene's experience. I would say my phone has had almost no accidents. Certainly not the kind he described. I also have spots on each lower corner, but they aren't chips. It is like the anodized layer had worn away a bit from use. They are also not big. It never even occurred to me to complain about this. Though I have had no significant accidents I guess I just kind of expect some wear on a device I use so heavily. Sent from the iMore App
  • That's the problem with the reporting here. Just because there are only so many complaints online doesn't mean those are the only phones with issues. People like you who don't even think about it to report it, or don't realize it's an issue, go unnoticed and don't get factored into the equation, unfortunately. I hate that Apple gets a pass here because it's Apple. An issue is an issue regardless of manufacturer. These phones shouldn't chip or wear away. If I'm paying $1k for a cellphone, and it hasn't been dropped or otherwise damaged, it better look brand new.
  • If you want to attach "gate" call them slippery gate. From iPhone 6, and up, they are thinner, and tend to slip out of your hands. Heck an AT&T employee told my son to be carful until you get a case. They tend to be slippery. I said he was just trying to sell you a case. When I saw, and held his iPhone 6, I realized it is slippery. The new iPhone 8 crazy rumors, are thinner, and start at $1000 bucks. Forbes. Terrible source, but all this thinner is better needs to be reevaluated. As far as status symbol. I had a flip phone, and when I decided to upgrade, I already had a MacBook Pro, and an iPad, so it made since to get an iPhone. If I was on a Dell or other windows computer, I would have gotten an android phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • The rumor isn't that it starts at $1,000, but that the highest memory configuration could exceed $1,000. It's at $949 now. I haven't found them to be particularly slippery. But some people with really dry hands might find that to be a problem for them. Ironically, the glossy finish is the least slippery.
  • I work with metal, and have for decades. I'd like to say that anodization doesn't chip. It wears. Paint chips. Unless the anodized parts were poorly prepared, the process itself was flawed, or the substrate wasn't suitable, the anodized parts will show Wear points. If the device is dropped, then, if it was dropped on a hard surface such as concrete, with a rough component, digs will result in the surface of the device. But anodization does not chip. If there is a problem with the process, in very rare cases that I've only seen once in decades, there could be tiny bubbles in the finish. I would like to get better confirmation as to what exactly this finish is composed of, and what the defects people are reporting actually are. I've seen a couple of photos, and from them, it doesn't look like wear.
  • That's what I'm thinking. I'm not about to scratch my 7+ matte black model to test it though. I do have it in a clear case.
  • From the very beginning I was intended to buy the Silver color, because Space Black option was gone, but I really hate white displays, and i think gold and rose gold finish are a little bit girly, so the struggle was between the Jet Black and the Matte Black. Almost automatically I discarded the Jet Black because I hate shiny metallic or plastic stuff, because it scratches so easily, doesn't matter if it is metal, plastic, or anything else, shiny stuff scratches, and as a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I predicted the Jet Black will be a headache for me, so I ended up buying the Matte Black.
    I'll be honest, I got a little traumatized by Matte Black finishes in Apple stuff, because I bought the iPhone 5 some years ago, and I ended horrorized and trading it for a Silver one, because simply the Matte black on the iPhone 5 worns off, even hard plastic cases can scratch it, and that's messed up. So when Apple announced the Space Gray, I felt i could breath and forget about extreme wear and tear. I had the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6, and 6S Plus in Space Gray, and I can assure that it's the best color so far.
    From the Day 1 I bought my Matte Black iPhone 7 Plus , exactly after I bought it, I just started to wonder if the Matte Black on the new iPhone can resist. Today, I'm still having it, and after about 3 months using it, always with a case, I can say, it's still in pristine condition, except for something: A little, very little dot in the left under corner just appeared, it doesn't feel like a dent, it's just a little spot, that is only visible looking at it extremely close and with a lot of light, otherwise it doesn't exist.
    Speaking about the main topic, i don't know what's happening, but i saw in some forums people complaining about chipping, and the other day I even found a topic talking about the Apple Leather Cases for iPhone 7/ 7Plus that just destroy matte black finish. I think the main trouble is that some iPhone in matte black finish could skip some kind of process in the assembly line, and that can be the main problem, causing the matte black finish being weak and chipping very easily.
    I'm justifying people that gives a superb care to their iPhones and they're just chipping because no reason.
    If you use your iPhone without a case and you drop it very often, it'll be completely normal that the matte black finish is wearing away, because if you impact painted metal, it'll obviously loss its color.
    The best advice i can give to other fellow matte black owners is to use it with a case, and take care of it to prevent wear and tear or chipping. Or if you don't want to worry at all about wear and tear an chipping, buy the silver one, or another finish.
  • I don't see how it's possible to skip a step in the manufacturing process. That's pretty much impossible. As far as having this problem for no reason, well, there's always a reason.
  • No issues with mine since september. No chipping around the charging port, and I dropped it naked once while putting a screen protector on. It bounced off my foot into my tile floor and while I could feel a very slight scuff and and barely see it in strong light, there was no actual chipping.
  • Returning it because the painted metal chipped? How completely... expected, from all the little snowflakes in the world. What I don't understand is: if you're concerned about a phone's appearance to the extent that you put a case on it to keep it from getting scuffed/scratched, then why don't the scuffs and scratches on the case bother you?
  • My matte black 7 is just fine, no chips or scratches.
  • Maybe your iPhones wouldn't get so scratched up if you didn't keep laying them on concrete to take pictures for all your articles (seriously what's up with that?)
  • I have the jet black one but this chick I met on tinder has the matte black one and its starting to chip around the holes on the bottom. she has always had a case on it and has never dropped it
  • Outstanding article, and thank you for doing a REAL investigation into the matter. That's what's missing in today's news reporting, unfortunately.