iPhone 4: Three Big Cons Beneath Sleek Design

Look beneath the super-thin case of the newest iPhone and you'll find a durability risk, reception improvements that may fall flat, and a videoconferencing feature that works only for a very limited set of people, says CIO.com's Tom Kaneshige. We go beyond the hype to look at the pros and cons of iPhone 4.

Tue, June 08, 2010

CIO — Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs heralded the new iPhone 4 as, "beyond a doubt, the most precise thing and one of the most beautiful things we've ever made." To be sure, die-hard Apple fans will rush out and get one when the iPhone 4 becomes available on June 24. iPhone 4 will cost $199 for a 16GB model and $299 for 32GB model, which requires a two-year contract with AT&T. The deal extends to existing customers with contracts that finish up this year. But are the hardware upgrades enough to move the masses to an Apple Store? Apple stock actually fell on the iPhone 4 unveiling Monday, dropping $5.02 per share to $250.94.

Here are the key hardware upgrades: a slimmer design, front and back glass panels, a metal rim, a new screen technology called retina that boasts four times as many pixels as the iPhone 3GS, a gyroscope, an improved camera, a front-facing camera for video chat, a bigger battery, and an Apple A4 chip.All sounds pretty impressive, right? Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons.

(I'm not including software features in iOS 4, formerly known as iPhone OS 4.0, or coming apps such as iMovie and iBookstore since they'll be available for the current iPhone 3GS.)

Con: Sleek Design Poses Risks

Apple has a history of choosing design over practicality. Want proof? Look no further than Apple's Magic Mouse that will turn your hand into a fixed claw. The iPhone 4's design won't do that, but has Apple gone overboard? The smartphone is 9.3mm thick, or 24 percent thinner than the iPhone 3GS, and has two glass panels that make up the casing.

Sure, the glass is pretty scratch resistant. But one of the ways iPhones find their way to a repair shop is because the glass breaks or scratches, says Aaron Vronko, CEO of Rapid Repair, which provides iPod and iPhone repair services. (The main reason an iPhone breaks is from water damage.) Logic says a thinner iPhone with two glass surfaces make it more breakable. Apple counters that the glass is 30 times harder than plastic and comparable to sapphire crystal.

Really, though, how much thinner does an iPhone need to be?

At least one company that has invested in iPhones for employees is concerned about breakage. "If you give people a free phone, they tend not to treat them well," says Shane Allen, former information systems manager at Special Devices, a manufacturer of air-bag initiators for the automotive industry. "Drop it, and we have to buy another one at full price. But you can drop kick a BlackBerry or candy bar phone or flip phone."

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