The biggest competitor to Apple's iPad tablet computer this holiday season may be the Microsoft Surface, but the biggest competitor to the iPhone 5 may be its own surface. After buyers have routinely waited through weeks-long delays for their iPhone 5, they open it up to find that the surface of the brand new smartphone is already scuffed and scratched -- right out of the box.
The Wall Street Journal penetrated the veil of secrecy behind the manufacturing of the iPhone 5. Apparently the smartphone's maker, the Chinese manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group, privately admits that they are struggling with the complexity of these devices -- and scratching the heck out of them during the production process.
"The iPhone 5 is the most difficult device that Foxconn has ever assembled," an anonymous Foxconn executive admitted to the Journal, explaining the delays and scratches on the iPhone 5. "To make it light and thin, the design is very complicated.”
Point taken. The iPhone 5 is 20 percent lighter, 20 percent thinner, with a slightly larger screen than its predecessor iPhone 4. That's got to be a manufacturing challenge.
“It takes time to learn how to make this new device," the anonymous executive continued. "Practice makes perfect. Our productivity has been improving day by day."
Of course, their productivity has been hampered by a day-long riot and a two-day strike. Foxconn clearly has its hands full on making the iPhone 5. The company earlier this week admitted using underage employees in Foxconn factories.
It's not difficult to see a connection between the iPhone 5's complex build and the unrest in the factories in which the device is being urgently cranked out.
And then there is the scratch and scuff issue. A recent informal poll of readers on the Apple fan site MacRumors found that more than a third of iPhone 5 buyers described the condition of their device as "Scuffed out of the box". The Foxconn executive noted that the company had put more emphasis on the quality check processes in their factories, but admitted to the Journal that the materials being used are more susceptible to scratching.
I'm no chemical engineer, but its also fair to wonder if the materials Foxconn is using to make the phone aren't maybe a little cheap and scratch-prone. I don't know whether the designer or the manufacturer chooses the materials, but I know Apple does have an Industrial Design department.
The high incidence of scratches and scuffs has to make one wonder if this premium-tier smartphone isn't being made with lower-tier materials, and under low-quality conditions.