Apple's new iPad will prove to be as fragile to drops and other accidents as its predecessor, the iPad 2, an after-sales warranty firm said today.
Although SquareTrade has no warranty data on the new iPad, the company suspects that the new tablet will break at the same rate as the iPad 2, whose owners filed three-and-a-half times more claims for accidental damage than did first-generation iPad owners during their first year of ownership.
"It seems like the iPad 2 and the new iPad break in the same fashion," said Vince Tseng, SquareTrade's vice president of marketing. "The form factor of the new iPad is almost identical to the iPad 2."
The company ran an unscientific "drop test" where workers dropped both iPad 2s and new iPads from waist and shoulder height, glass up and glass down, onto a hard, flat surface.
Both tablet models survived the face up falls, but their glass overlays shattered when dropped face down. Damage to the new iPad's screen, however, seemed more significant; in one case, the display nearly separated from the case.
Tseng attributed the poor performance of both the iPad 2 and new iPad to design changes Apple made last year when it reduced the thickness of the glass overlaying the touchscreen and modified the aluminum case, exposing that glass above the frame's bevel.
Claims filed with SquareTrade support the higher breakage rate of the iPad 2 when compared with the 2010 original.
In their first year of coverage, 9.8% of iPad 2 warranty holders reported accidental damage, or 3.5 times the 2.8% rate of first-generation iPad owners, Tseng said.
After extrapolating the 5.5% accidental damage claim rate of the first-generation iPad during the second year of coverage, Tseng said SquareTrade expected nearly 20% of iPad 2 owners to report a tablet accident in the same period.
The majority of reported damage was shattered or cracked touchscreens, with 69% of the claims drop- or fall-related.
"The most important factor in the failure rate of the iPad 2 is the thickness of the glass," said Tseng. "That's most likely the reason for the higher rate, since the thinner glass is more prone to breaking."
Apple reduced the glass thickness of the iPad 2 by 23% when it switched to aluminosilicate glass, which is touted as more resistant to breaking and scratching. Apple also uses the glass -- marketed by Corning under the Gorilla Glass brand and by Asahi Glass Co. as Dragontrail Glass -- in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
Tseng noted that Corning's stronger Gorilla Glass 2, which the company introduced last January at the Consumer Electronics Show, may be used in the new iPad at some point.
But Apple's claims that thinner aluminosilicate glass is ultra-durable just doesn't match SquareTrade's data, what with iPad 2 owners filing three-and-a-half times more damage reports. "I don't know if [Apple's] claim holds up to reality," said Tseng.
On the other hand, non-accidental claims for the iPad 2 -- parts failure of some kind -- were extremely rare, said Tseng. In the first year of coverage, just 0.3% of iPad 2 owners, or 3 out of 1,000, filed a malfunction claim, compared to 0.9% of first-generation iPad owners.
Those numbers were a fraction of the claim rates posted by other devices, such as smart phones (with a first-year claim rate of 3.4%) and laptops (4.5%).
"In general, man, has Apple gotten good at producing electronics," said Tseng about the iPad's low failure rate.
The jury is still out, of course, on the new iPad. But one possible red flag, said Tseng, is higher temperatures generated by the tablet. "If the new iPad is heating up, that could affect the durability of the internal components over time," he said.
Apple has denied that the new iPad overheats.
SquareTrade faces new competition from Apple in the warranty business: Apple just added accidental damage coverage to its two-year AppleCare plan for the iPad. An iPad owner is allowed to file two accident claims during the life of the warranty, with each subject to a $49 service fee.
AppleCare for the iPad costs $99.
"It's good that Apple is finally addressing accidents," said Tseng. "But it's most useful to people who live in close proximity of an Apple store."
SquareTrade has dropped its two-year warranty price to $89 to stay competitive with AppleCare, and offers a three-year plan for $119. Like Apple, it levies a $49 fee -- SquareTrade calls it a deductible -- for each accident claim.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about macintosh in Computerworld's Macintosh Topic Center.