The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have glass backs that, if smashed, cost more to replace than the screen.
The new plates, which bring glass to the back of Apple smartphones for the first time in four years, have been installed to enable wireless charging, but also introduce a new point of failure.
Apple says that its glass covering the screen and the back of the iPhone 8 is “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone”, although the company has not divulged precisely how it comes to that determination and just how much more durable it is compared to Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5, used on rival smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8. How durable the glass actually is should become apparent when users inevitably begin dropping their £700-plus smartphones.
The metal reinforcement of the glass back panel represents part of Apple’s durability efforts. A teardown of the iPhone 8 by repair site iFixit reveals that beneath the glass is a metal sheet that has a hole in its centre to make space for the wireless charging coil. That metal sheet is stuck to the glass panel by “lots” of glue, according to iFixit, which leads the repairers to conclude that while “the durability of the glass back remains to be seen … replacements are likely to be very difficult”.
That means a third-party repair of the glass panel is either going to be very difficult or very expensive, even compared to the screen. Apple’s own AppleCare+ for the iPhone 8, which costs £129, covers up to two damage repairs for two years. For the screen an excess of £25 is due, but repairs to the glass on the back of are only covered under the “other damage” part of the plan. According to AppleInsider, this costs £79 each time, making the back panel more than three times as expensive as the screen.
It’s also possible that what Apple apparently calls “mass destruction” of the rear case of the iPhone 8 could result in Apple refusing to honour the £79 AppleCare+ repair excess, instead charging the company’s out of warranty pricing of £356.44 for “other damage”, according to Apple staff talking to AppleInsider. The costs are higher for the larger iPhone 8 Plus, and will probably be for the incoming iPhone X too.
While smashing screens seems almost inevitable for a vast number of smartphone users, the metal backs of the previous generations of iPhones have taken that worry out of the equation. The iPhone 8, therefore, requires a protective case more than ever. If that protection is too thick or has metal or other reinforcement within its back, it will prevent the wireless charging from working and nullify any benefit from having the glass there in the first place.