My iPhone’s screen is one red. Some of that clutter makes sense: I expect nicks and scratches on my screen when my iPhone, for example, falls out of my pocket on cement. But many of these scratches have mysteriously accumulated over time without me abusing them myself. Under direct sunlight there is one massacre. If your iPhone looks about the same, it may make you wonder why newer iPhones get scratched so easily.
As long as there have been smartphones, the threat of micro-scratches has existed. Most phones use glass for their screens (many for the back) and glass scratches. How easily it scratches is determined by its hardness: Most glasses used for smartphones show level 6 scratches on Mohs hardness scalewhich means that it is only scratched by materials that are level 6 or higher.
Therefore, you can put your phone in your pocket and not immediately see 1,000 notches and scratches from all the hidden dust and dirt: It takes some specific materials to leave a mark on your iPhone. Still, they are out there: Sand, for example, is not friendly to your screen, so there is always a risk of scratches when you do not expect it.
But for a seemingly large part of the tech community (myself included), our iPhones scratch a lot more often these days. I have an iPhone 12 and an iPhone 12 Pro Max, and both phones have their own range of scratches. Some customers even notice scratches almost as soon as they take their new devices out of the box. It does not seem likely that there is more level 6 or harder materials floating around outside than used to be, so what happens instead?
Does harder glass really mean harder glass?
Since the iPhone 12, Apple has been using a glass technology called “Ceramic Shield”. While the term sounds fancy, it’s actually a bit of a marketing spin, as the iPhone’s new glass comes from the same company that makes most smartphone glass screens, Corning.
That said, it’s an impressive technology: Ceramic Sheild adds nano-ceramic crystals to the glass to improve durability. Apple claims that Ceramic Shield “is harder than any smartphone glass”, and while there may not be a good standard to confirm this claim, the latest iPhones are is more protected from fall than previous iterations.
Ceramic shield means your iPhone is less likely to break in shock when you drop it, which is a good thing. However, splinter resistance is not the same as scratch resistance, even though the two sounds connected. After all, if Ceramic Shield glass is so tough, would it not withstand scratches, just as it does with fall?
In fact, the reverse is apparently true. Creating a glass that resists crushing often means making it more susceptible to scratches. That’s how Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) explains things his review of the iPhone 12: After normal use, his review unit quickly picked up a few ugly marks on the display, which fell in line with many of our lived experiences.
Brownlee points to the inverse relationship the two properties have: Glass that is more refractory is softer, making it more susceptible to scratches, while glass that is harder does not scratch as easily, but that tension makes it more likely , that it is crushed by shocks. “Ceramic Shield is softer, and therefore more scratch-prone, ”is a claim you will see everywhere on the internet.
However, it can be difficult to find solid data that supports the claim about smartphone glass. One of the best durability reviewers on YouTube, JerryRigEverything, comments on how the iPhone 12 Pro still scratches at level 6 on the Mohs scale, with “deeper grooves at level 7”, which places it in line with most other smartphones without the Ceramic Shield. That said, he does not confirm that the new iPhones are less scratch-resistant than before. Opposite to, he reported weaker scratches on the iPhone 13 Prowhich could indicate an improvement in scratch resistance.
However, the anecdotal evidence in support of the scratch-susceptibility of the latest iPhones is staggering. A Google search reveals complaint after complaint regarding the surprising scratches on Ceramic Shield iPhones. At the top of my search was one Apple thread from 2020 on iPhone 12and one Reddit thread about iPhone 13, but there are plenty of other results to see through. While you will see some users proud to report no scratches on their device, many report the opposite. Some chose to choose a screen protector on day one to avoid scratches at all.
If this is true and there is a trade-off between scratch-resistant and shatterproof glass, you’d probably prefer your iPhone to be the latter. Scratches are annoying, of course, but cracked and broken glass is worse. A scratched screen is still perfectly usable, while a cracked one may require an expensive replacement. While useful, it can be dangerous: I’ve cut myself on a cracked iPhone screen before. Not funny.
The good news is that there is a simple, long-lasting solution here: Screen Protectors! These thin layers of glass or plastic (but preferably glass) can help protect your iPhone’s screens from both scratches and cracks, keeping them aesthetically pleasing. and keeps their resale value up. Not everyone likes the look of a screen protector, but you might prefer it over Jackson Pollock of scratches, your screen will soon be.
Even if it’s too late for your screen, you should still consider a protector. Although it does not retroactively remove your scratches, a screen protector can help hide the scratches that are there. I have considered one for my 12 Pro Max precisely for that reason: the screen will never be worth its original value, but at least a screen protector can hide some of these strange patterns.