Glass Backing Next iPhone 4 Controversy?

In a provocative essay, Ryan Block at gdgt asserts Apple (s aapl) is aware that the glass backing of the iPhone 4 is “another design flaw.” Even if true, this is hardly “Antennagate.”

Although much was made of the iPhone 4 antenna at launch, it turned out to suffer from a technical defect, and a much larger public relations problem. At the same launch, the glass on the iPhone 4 also received a little publicity. Made of aluminosilicate glass, it was described as “20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic” and “comparable in strength to sapphire crystal.”

Not so, says Block, who cites “sources both inside and outside Apple” as confirming “another potential design flaw,” resulting in a “quiet panic” within the company. The issue is supposedly that the glass backing is prone to scratching, cracking, and fracturing, especially when used in conjunction with certain cases, specifically slide-on cases.

According to Block, to prevent another “Antennagate,” Apple temporarily halted sales of almost all third-party cases, and slide-on cases for the iPhone 4 are still “conspicuously absent” from the Apple Store. Further, there may not be a solution to the “design flaw,” and Block suggests that this will be the end of the glass backing for the iPhone.

While it’s difficult to disprove any of those assertions, mostly because they are based on somewhat questionable data, it’s hard to see how the so-called “Glassgate” situation could be as big a problem as the iPhone 4 antenna. First, unlike with the antenna, there haven’t been nearly as many anecdotal reports on the issue, either in the media or in discussions at Apple Support.

While you can still find some discussions on the issue, the number of views and participants are insignificant compared to what happened with the antenna. Apple also hasn’t tried to cover up the issue by removing discussion threads, as was the case with the iPhone 4 antenna. More importantly, unlike the iPhone 4 antenna, the glass backing can easily be replaced should it fail.

That doesn’t mean the glass backing is impervious to harm, just that an alleged design flaw in this area hardly seems comparable to the antenna issue. Nonetheless, for those who own an iPhone 4, or are thinking of buying one, a survival kit is a good way to protect your iPhone 4’s surfaces from scratching.

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