Thinner iPad 2 glass: Will it break?

May be using 'Dragontrail' glass technology from Japanese company, says expert

Apple's decision to shave the iPad 2's profile and reduce its weight may mean a slight increase in broken screens, a repair expert said today.

But other analysts who have torn apart the iPad 2 said that the new design will prevent shattered screens because Apple's using a new, more flexible material.

As part of its work to slim down the iPad 2, Apple reduced the thickness of the tablet's glass overlay by 25 per cent, from 0.8 millimeters to 0.6 millimeters, according to teardowns by the likes of IHS iSuppli and iFixit.com.

The move will translate into a small increase in broken screens, said Aaron Vronko, CEO of Portage, Mich.-based Rapid Repair, a repair shop and do-it-yourself parts supplier for the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Vronko also pulled apart an iPad 2 to get an idea of how Apple designed its new tablet.

"On balance, I would guess this design change results in a modest increase in broken screens and at times greater damage, with both the digitizer/glass and LCD modules being broken," said Vronko when asked his take on the impact of the iPad 2's thinner glass.

But he cautioned that the modest increase should be judged in the context of the iPad's overall durability.

"We have been surprised and impressed that the rates of broken screens on the original iPad seems to be the lowest for any of Apple's mobile devices to date," Vronko said, referring to Rapid Repair's past year of experience with the original model.

And while the design change may translate into more broken screens, the iPad 2 may have the advantage at times because of the thinner glass's greater flexibility.

"For slower collisions with a larger point of impact, like dropping the tablet from a low elevation, say onto a corner of a coffee table, the thin glass can provide more time for deceleration by safely flexing further, which could result in fewer broken screens," Vronko said. "However, as the actual point of impact gets smaller or the speed of impact gets faster, it becomes more likely to break."

In the latter scenario -- dropping something atop the iPad 2, for example -- the thinner glass the isn't able to flex enough at the point of impact.

Others were certain that the thinner glass will mean fewer problems for owners, however.

According to iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam, there's a major difference between the physical properties of the glass used in the two iPads. The original tablet's glass was "brittle" and "delicate," said Lam, because it was thicker and isolated from the load bearing case because the glass was fixed to the case with metal clips.

"But the second generation [iPad] uses a very, very flexible material that behaves quite differently. It's almost like plastic," said Lam. "We had a very tough time getting it to shatter, and finally had to do an edge cut to make it break."

Lam said that the new material resembles the aluminosilicate glass used on both the front and back of the iPhone 4. Last summer, several analysts connected Apple's use of the aluminosilicate material to Corning's "Gorilla Glass."

The iPad 2 uses something similar, but because Apple didn't call out "aluminosilicate" in any description of the tablet -- as it did with the iPhone 4 -- Lam believes it's not sourced from Corning. One possibility: Asahi Glass Co.'s "Dragontrail Glass" technology.

"Dragintrail is very similar to Gorilla Glass," said Lam.

Lam said it was impossible to tell whether the iPad 2 uses Dragontrail, but the timing of the Japanese company's January 2011 announcement ( download PDF ) was intriguing. Because iSuppli believes that Apple isn't getting its iPad glass from Corning, it may be obtaining it from Asahi.

The experts also split on whether Apple's new Smart Cover accessory will be enough to protect the iPad 2's screen from accidents.

"The Smart Cover will provide a decent level of protection," said Vronko. "The screen is tough enough, and you usually don't run into as many [potential breakage] situations with the iPad as with the iPhone, so I don't think you need a whole lot more than the Smart Cover."

Apple's Smart Cover is a polyurethane or leather screen cover that magnetically attaches to the iPad 2. The covers retail for $39 (polyurethane) and $69 (leather).

Lam disagreed with Vronko. "I doubt [a Smart Cover] will provide protection if you drop your iPad," he said.

A search of Apple's iPad support forum turned up no reports of iPad 2 screen breakage problems by new owners of the tablet, which has been in consumers' hands less than a week.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

Read more about macintosh in Computerworld's Macintosh Topic Center.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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