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Reliable supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo dropped a treasure chest of Apple hardware rumors for 2019 over the weekend, including the first mention of a possible iPhone 11 design change. According to Kuo, Apple plans to use a “frosted glass casing” on the new flagship iPhones later this year — a design that would be totally new for iPhones.
A “frosted glass casing” might not be completely different for Google Pixel 3 owners however. Google’s flagship smartphone line already uses a glass casing that mixes a glossy glass finish with a matte glass finish. Stephen Hall at 9to5Google described the Pixel 3 glass material feel in his initial hands-on:
One thing that you just can’t know about the Pixel 3 and 3 XL unless you check it out for yourself is just how nice the matte, soft-touch glass back is. It feels like the softest hard surface you’ve ever touched. Like a piece of glass that’s been sanded with the finest grain sand paper ever.
If you’re used to the sticky feeling of your smudged-up glass iPhone 8/X or Samsung Galaxy, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised by just how nice this phone feels in your hand.
Even without touching the matte glass finish on the Pixel 3 hardware, you can clearly see how the glossy glass finish appears visually different than the matte finish — especially since both are used on the same casing. The iPhone 11 rumor doesn’t suggest Apple will mix matte and glossy surfaces on the casing, however, so we should probably expect a full matte glass back.
I don’t personally have complaints about fingerprints on the glass back and the grippy feel is preferred to more slippery aluminum, but I have experienced moments of confusion between the front and back of the iPhone. A matte glass back restores the sense of front and back at the cost of a less uniform design.
In a year when we expect the iPhone design to retain the same three screen sizes, this iPhone 11 rumor suggests one way Apple can create a visual distinction between the old iPhones and the new models. Matte versions of space gray, silver, and gold glass are distinctive in marketing materials even if most iPhone customers cover the back glass with a protective case. It might also make for some neat new iPhone XR 2 colors.
Previous iPhones have rotated through combinations of plastic, aluminum, and glass with changing antenna line-blending designs, but iPhone 8 and iPhone X introduced the glossy glass back used on the iPhone XS and iPhone XR a year later. The camera orientation and lens count is the biggest distinction beyond color and band material between models. If Kuo’s iPhone 11 rumor is accurate, Apple will introduce frosted glass as a new design distinction.
While glass backs aren’t as durable as metal when gravity and pavement are introduced, the material does contribute to the premium feel of Apple’s flagship iPhones. Glass also helps with improved radio performance (a benefit the Apple Watch Series 4 gained when switching to an all-glass back) and supports reliable wireless charging.
For these reasons, it’s hard to imagine future iPhones returning to metal or plastic backs anytime soon. A fresh matte glass finish sounds like a neat modern take on the glossy glass surface seen on the last two years of iPhones without compromise.
Prefer your glass glossy or curious about a fresh frosted finish? The iPhone 11 rumor doesn’t paint a full picture for us yet, but the Google Pixel 3 is a helpful hint for now.