Gorilla Glass: it’s scratch-resistant, not drop-proof

I’m seeing something more and more lately that’s beginning to concern me: broken phones.

Apple iPhones with shattered screens, Samsung handsets with jagged glass, and other devices that look like they fell to ground with an awful crack. Whenever I see these, I wonder if people know the difference between scratch-resistant and drop-proof.

Corning has made a name for itself with a specific product that most phones we’ve seen have used in some way or another.

Used on over 750 million devices, it’s called “Gorilla Glass” and is essentially a stronger type of glass engineered to be more resistant to damage.

According to a New York Times article, the decision to use a scratch-resistant glass screen in smartphones came from the first-generation iPhone prototypes, when Steve Jobs would find his keys had left little marks in the plastic screen Apple was using.

The research for the Gorilla Glass happened in the 60s, and since its introduction in Apple’s first mobile handset, we’ve seen it in so many other devices, that we now think it’s pretty much a standard feature.

But while the glass technology is strengthened, it’s not strong enough to survive everything you throw at it.

Keep your keys in the same pocket as your phone, or maybe your handbag and backpack? Don’t worry so much, as strengthened glass will stop it from getting seriously scratched up.

Drop your phone on concrete, or asphalt, or any other hard surface? That’s something Gorilla Glass won’t necessarily be able to help with, and depending on how the phone lands – the corner, side, or face – the glass can break.

Currently, glass isn’t drop-proof, and while your screen might survive an impact with the hard ground, it’s not a guarantee, and bullet-proof glass isn’t a necessity in your average smartphone.

Furthermore, using a broken glass screen is just confusing for us, and astounds us how many people don’t have a problem with it.

When we were kids, we can remember our parents telling us not to touch broken glass, and yet here many of us are, running our fingers on glass screens with massive cracks throughout them. The experts say that you probably won’t get cut, but given that it’s glass, we still suggest caution.

“Generally, the genuine glass does not splinter into sharp shards, so the screen can be used with a bit of protective sticky tape stuck over it,” said Patrick Lee of iExperts in Australia, repairers of smartphones like the iPhone 4. “Aftermarket glass breakages may cause sharp splinters so it is not recommend to use these if any shards are falling out.”

If your phone does break, head to a repairer and get that sorted. You shouldn’t be holding broken glass to your face to take a call, or even touching it. That’s insane.

“When screens are cracked, I do recommend to replace them as soon as possible,” said Kevin Orchard, director of Bat Tech, another company that offers phone screen repair through its “Fix My iPhone” service.

“It’s dangerous in that there’s a possibility for customers to cut themselves, but normally a phone thats cracked will further degrade, and you’re running the risk that dirt or water will get in there,” said Mr. Orchard. “We’re talking down to the microscopic level, and anything that damages the integrity of the device is a risk.”

Screen replacing is a relatively quick process these days, though, which is good news for people who fear not having their phone with them. While many of us feel naked without our mobile handset, Orchard told us that most iPhones can be fixed within the hour, while Samsung mobiles are about 20 minutes.

Or you could just try one of the ways to stop your phone from breaking.

One of these is to not drop your smartphone.

Obviously, there’s a big glass touchscreen there, so like with glass bottles and wine glasses, you probably don’t want to drop it.

The other is to protect your handset with a sturdy case. Some of these are rubberised and feature so much protection that not only is your phone safe, but it bounces when it hits the ground, something we found when we tested it on a Galaxy S2 a few months back.

This last one, more secure protection, is about your best bet before the technology improves to the point where dropping it is no longer an issue.

“It’s the corners that do the most damage: the phone will bend a little and that’s what fractures the glass,” said Mr. Orchard, “but they can only make the glass so strong and still make it commercially viable.”

At the end of the day, it’s a phone, and a complicated one at that. Every touchscreen phone is still an expensive piece of technology, and we probably should hold onto them just a little better, unless you really want to fork out more money to fix a phone you never intended to break in the first place.