The petty iPhone problem that’s driving me insane

iPhone Display Problem

Longtime readers of the site know at least two things about me: I’ve been an iPhone user since 2007 and a moderate germaphobe for much longer. Focusing on the iPhone for a moment, I’ve been there every step of the way as Apple refined its smartphone each year. The first iPhone was obviously the biggest disruption of the past decade in the smartphone industry — and as it turns out, Apple might also soon be responsible for the next huge disruption as well — but the original model was also quite clearly a first-generation product.

In the years since Apple’s iPhone was first released, Apple has molded its creation into the class-leading smartphone we see today in the iPhone 6s. What people don’t talk about as often is the fact that Apple’s build quality and quality control have also improved steadily over the years… for the most part.

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I have purchased nine generations of iPhones for myself over the years. I have also purchased five different models for my wife; thankfully, she doesn’t need a new phone each year like I do. That’s 14 iPhones in total, but together we have been through more than twice that many handsets. That figure is closer to 30.

The first iPhone model was miles ahead of any other phones that were being sold at the time. The touchscreen was comparatively large and remarkably responsive, and the metal housing was a breath of fresh air compared to all the cheap plastic junk out there.

I only had to swap that model out once for a new one.

In the years that followed, my wife and I went through defective iPhone after defective iPhone. Wireless chips would die. Batteries would choke. Buttons would break. Over and over again.

Apple’s customer service is phenomenal and each time an iPhone would go bad, the Apple Store would swap it out for a new one at no cost. But that only made all of these failures slightly less aggravating.

The iPhone 6 was the first iPhone ever that neither my wife nor I had to swap out once. I didn’t even realize it until I began talking to people about this issue in preparation for this post. For the first time, we both went a full year without needing a single swap due to a product defect. And others with whom I have spoken relayed similar experiences. I haven’t conducted a scientific study, but I have little doubt that Apple’s iPhone failure rate has dropped dramatically over the years.

But remember when I mentioned that I was a bit of a germaphobe?

While Apple has unquestionably improved the iPhone’s quality over time, there are a few things that have stayed the same, or perhaps even gotten worse. One of them reared its ugly head sometime in June last year: The oleophobic coating on my iPhone 6’s screen ceased to exist.

Like many smartphones sold in the United States and around the world, the iPhone’s glass display cover is coated with a special material that resists oil and dirt. This is hugely important since these are touchscreen devices and our hands are naturally covered with oil.

Over time, the coating wears off — there’s simply no way to avoid it. It’s the amount of time it takes for the coating to wear off that is now driving me crazy.

One of the benefits of having to swap out defective phones constantly was that each time I did, I got a new device with a fresh oleophobic coating. But since I never had to swap out my iPhone 6, the coating wore off after nine months. Of course, I knew I only had to wait a few more months until September when the iPhone 6s was released, so I suppressed my craziness for a short time and lived with a disgusting, oily smartphone.

Then, the iPhone 6s came along. My hero. I was back to enjoying an oil-free iPhone, and it would be almost a year before I had to deal with an oily phone again. Or so I thought. As it turned out though, the oleophobic coating on my iPhone 6s didn’t even last four months.

Thanks a lot, 3D Touch.

I’m not the only one who has noticed that the oleophobic coating on Apple’s latest iPhones is painfully quick to degrade. I have spoken to a number of people who have the same complaint I do, and a couple of them were even more upset than I was about it. Ahh, the tormented life of a germaphobe.

While Apple has never officially named Corning as a partner, it’s believed that the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus utilize the latest available Gorilla Glass for protection. Corning clearly didn’t anticipate the added strain that 3D Touch would put on its oleophobic treatment. Of note, my 3D Touch sensitivity has been set to light since just after I bought my phone.

This is likely not an issue that will bother most people to the extent that it bothers me, but it is an issue and it does indeed bother other people. The iPhone experience begins with the display, and I don’t want a layer of grime standing between me and iOS. Pressure-sensing screens will play a major role in Apple’s devices for the foreseeable future, and I hope Apple and Corning do a better job of accommodating them in the years to come.

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