iPhone 5 shortage due to scratch-prone aluminium back, report

Apple is reportedly cracking down on quality control at its factories

Apple's shortage of iPhone 5s could be due to a 'quality control crackdown' at Foxconn factories, in attempt to prevent users receiving models with dents and scratches on them.

Many iPhone 5 owners have been complaining that their device were shipped with scratches and imperfections, and Bloomberg reports that a 'person familiar with the matter' has claimed that this is the source of the new handset's low stock.

The new iPhone has an anodized aluminium back, rather than the iPhone 4S's crack susceptible glass casing, but, despite enabling the device to be thinner and lighter, the metal does appear to come with a downside. According to the report, Apple executives have told Foxconn bosses to "tighten production standards."

"It's a trade-off because aluminium is strong and tougher to break, and it's light and more economical, yet it is also easier to scratch," said Jacob Huang, a professor of materials engineering at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan. "You could use magnesium, which is lighter, but even softer and easier to scratch, or glass which is heaver but harder yet more brittle."

"The slowdown is heightening supply concerns that have cost Apple about $60 billion in market value since the iPhone debut," says Bloomberg. "A shortcoming of the drive to imbue products with qualities that make them alluring yet more difficult to manufacture."

Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc analyst Shaw Wu said: "The iPhone 5 is not easy to put together because it's a minimalist design. Apple has a very high standard, where it aims to produce each model to be an exact replica where variance is measured in microns."

Workers from Apple's supply chain told Bloomberg that the iPhone 5 production process leaves many opportunities to scratch the soft metal exterior, making it increasingly difficult to keep the standards high enough to keep up with demand.

"The stricter standards would lower the yield on good products being shipped out," Jeff Pu, a Taiepei-based analyst at Fubon Financial Holding Co. "They'll handle it by increasing labor and machinery, and Apple may even use its cash to buy new equipment to assist Foxconn."

It has been reported that Apple will extend its manufacturing capabilities for the iPhone 5 by signing up another division of Foxconn ready for the Christmas period.

However, Apple's VP of Marketing Phil Schiller has defended the scratches on the iPhone 5 as being 'normal' in an email to a customer regarding the issue.

If you're worried about scratching your shiny new iPhone 5, check out our cases and accessories roundup.

See also:

Foxconn denies strike, says iPhone 5 production is on track Suicide at Apple supplier in China caused by mistreatment, says victim's family Envisioning the iPhone 6 Apple acknowledges iPhone 5 purple haze, tells users to shield lens or change camera position

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Ashleigh Allsopp

Macworld U.K.
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