The iPad Pro 2018 is a beautiful device–a thin, perfectly flat slab. Except it’s not perfectly flat in some cases due to a defect in the manufacturing process.
iPad “bendgate” started in the forums of popular Apple fanboy site MacRumors and on social media. A number of users claimed that their new iPad Pros came bent right out of the box. Here is a photo of how this looks by MacRumors forum user MacDonaldTrump, one of the people who posted about the problem:
MacDonaldTrump wondered if “there is a bad batch, or some slipped through quality checks.” Other users speculated if it could be related to the flimsy structure of the new iPad, demonstrated by the bending test below, in which the pressure of two thumbs splits the device in two:
One person wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook about the problem, and Cook reportedly forwarded the email to Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering Dan Riccio. In his reply to the user, Riccio tacitly admitted that iPads could be bent from the factory but claimed that this was not a problem, as it was well within Apple’s standards:
“Relative to the issue you referenced regarding the new iPad Pro, its unibody design meets or exceeds all of Apple’s high quality standards of design and precision manufacturing.”
But since the price tag for the iPad Pro runs from $900 to $1,900 for the top-of-the-line 12.9-inch LTE-connected model, consumers didn’t buy the argument. Riccio’s reply caused a huge wave of indignation on the internet, with users and journalists accusing Apple of not addressing the issue at all.
So this week Apple released an official response in the form of a technical support document, the publicly available notes that Apple issues to help users or warn them about problems with its products. In it, Apple says that the bending issue affects the iPad Pro equipped with LTE:
“To provide optimal cellular performance, small vertical bands or ‘splits’ in the sides of the iPad allow parts of the enclosure to function as cellular antennas. For the first time ever on an iPad, these bands are manufactured using a process called co-molding. In this high-temperature process, plastic is injected into precisely milled channels in the aluminum enclosure where it bonds to micro-pores in the aluminum surface. After the plastic cools, the entire enclosure is finished with a precision CNC machining operation, yielding a seamless integration of plastic and aluminum into a single, strong enclosure.”
It is during this cooling phase that the iPad bends. Apple claims that the bending can’t exceed more than 400 micron–“the width of fewer than four sheets of paper at most,” which is a “tighter specification for flatness than previous generations,” the note says. The tech note further states that the antenna splits “may make subtle deviations in flatness more visible only from certain viewing angles that are imperceptible during normal use.”
However, as multiple user photos show, the problem is clearly visible regardless of the antenna splits.
Apple finishes the note claiming that the iPad will not further bend during its lifetime due to its manufacturing process, and, as a message to those who are not happy with their bent iPad Pro units, it includes a reminder of the company’s 14-day, no-questions-asked return policy.
Okay. But the fact is that, regardless of Apple’s technical explanations, the LTE iPad’s manufacturing process can result in a defective product. Tablets like Microsoft’s Surface don’t seem to have any of these structural problems. Perhaps Apple doesn’t want to go through the process of having to repair or replace iPads down the line, like it had to do with the bending iPhone 6. Whatever the reasoning, it seems that Apple needs to add another quality assurance problem to its 2019 to-do list.