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How its aluminum housing may be causing iPhone 5 shortages

Apple's sixth-generation smartphone is thinner and lighter, mostly due to its aluminum casing. But this makes the device prone to scuffmarks, chips, nicks, and other quality-control failures.

Apple's iPhone 5. CNET

Cuts, scrapes, and scratches are part of what seems to be slowing Apple's iPhone 5 supply.

According to Bloomberg, the smartphone's delicate aluminum housing, coupled with increasingly stricter quality control, has slowed production and added to the device's supply shortfall.

When Apple launched the iPhone 5 last month, fanatics flocked to stores and Web sites to get the device -- but many were met with "sold out" and "check back soon" notices. Early reports said one of the reasons for the shortage of phones was the device's new LG Display technology.

Now sources familiar with the matter have revealed to Bloomberg that there have also been problem related to the device's metal housing.

The sixth-generation iPhone is thinner and lighter than its predecessors, mostly thanks to its anodized aluminum casing. Previous generations of the iPhone were housed in glass, which is tougher to scratch but more prone to cracks.

"It's a trade-off because aluminum is strong and tougher to break, and it's light and more economical, yet it is also easier to scratch," Jacob Huang, a professor of materials engineering at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, told Bloomberg.

When the iPhone 5 launched, many customers complained of scuffmarks and nicks. Some even said that they found their brand new phones already sporting scratches and dings right out of the box.

"Mine arrived today with small scratches on the right out of the box. Looks like they chipped the anodized coating putting the screen in, and there is a small mark on the lower back too, by the glass section," said spr97ajm on a MacRumors forum, who also identified himself as Andy. "I'm not going to worry about it, but it shows the coating is soft, and will chip over time."

Apple's senior marketing vice president Phil Schiller responded to at least one complaint on the Apple-focused website 9to5Mac saying, "Any aluminum product may scratch or chip with use, exposing its natural silver color. That is normal."

However, according to Bloomberg, Apple executives immediately complained about the scratches to its manufacturer Foxconn. After this, reportedly fewer iPhone 5 housings passed quality control and inevitably added to the device's supply shortfall.

CNET contacted Apple for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.

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