My iPhone 3G normally resides in a case of some sort--the iFrogz 3G Luxe for normal use, and the Incase Power Slider when using the iPhone for GPS during a round of golf. (Sadly, the Power Slider is out of production now; you may be able to find leftovers at Best Buy, Target, or the Apple Store. It does a great job at making battery life a non-issue, even during five hours of intense GPS use.)
After returning from an early-morning round of golf one recent weekend, I took the iPhone out of the Power Slider case, and noticed a small crack on the back of the iPhone--it started at the dock connector, and went up and right from there, running about half-an-inch or so. I wouldn't have even noticed it visually, except that it was a complete break--my finger snagged on the ridge where the plastic had split.
My iPhone 3G was new in late August 2008, so it was still under warranty. After a bit of digging on the Apple support site, I found the Online Service Assistant. After entering my iPhone's serial number, the assistant confirmed my iPhone was under warranty, and told me to make an appointment with an Apple Genius at a local Apple Store.
So that's what I did, setting one up for 10 a.m. (when my local store opens). One minor quirk in the system is that the confirmation e-mail asks you to check in five minutes before your appointment. I tried, but the locked front door stymied me--and I figured a rock through the window wouldn't help things much. So I waited outside with the 10 or so other folks there. (Yes, there really were 10 people milling about outside the Apple Store at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday morning.)
Once inside, the actual visit with the Genius Bar was quick and painless. It took about two minutes for the Genius Bar to get up and running. Once a Genius had my phone in hand, he looked up inside the dock connector area with a lighted scope of some sort--I assume he was checking for water damage. After that, he gave the phone a quick once-over to make sure it didn't look like it'd been regularly abused, then asked if I'd backed up my data. After confirming I had done so, he swapped my SIM chip into a new iPhone (16GB 3G, to match my current phone), activated it, and sent me on my way.
From start to finish, the whole process took maybe 10 minutes. My colleague Jason Snell had a similar experience with his iPhone 3G--a crack developed near the dock connector, and he too was in and out with a new iPhone after a quick-and-easy swap. (The painful part started when I returned home and started iTunes' multi-hour 'restore from backup' process.)
A couple of caveats here: First, if your phone is out of its warranty period, it will probably cost you $199 to get a cracked case repaired--although Apple notes that some damage isn't eligible for out-of-warranty repair service.
Second, if you're going to get your cracked iPhone replaced, keep in mind that the old one will go into Apple's possession. If you keep any confidential data on your iPhone, I would suggest wiping the device before visiting the store, just to protect yourself. (My iPhone has very little on it I would consider confidential; mainly e-mail addresses for my friends and co-workers. As such, I didn't bother to wipe it before visiting the Genius Bar. So if you get e-mail spam at your private address in the future, feel free to blame whomever it was that processed my old iPhone!)
In the end, I was thrilled with how easy Apple made this process--granted, it'd be much tougher without a nearby Apple store. I was expecting something of a hassle over getting the crack repaired, but it was a non-issue. As a result, nearly a year into my iPhone's life, I have a brand-new phone (with a nice brand new battery), which I hope to enjoy using years to come, or at least until the iPhone 4G comes out in 2010!
This story, "The Case of the Cracked IPhone" was originally published by Macworld.