iScream, uScream for a good iPhone iScreen

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Some iPhone users are up in arms over what they say are second-rate touch screens that show a discernable grid of dots, and are darker and fuzzier than the screens on friends' iPhones.

Heavily trafficked message threads on Apple Inc.'s own support forum and on independent iPhone-oriented boards sport scores of iPhone owners complaining about the quality of the touch screen on their devices. Many of them are focused on a faint -- or to some, not-so-faint -- dot grid that blurred and darkened the display, especially during tasks like watching movies.

On the Apple forum, several messages spelled out how to determine the iPhone's screen information. Tapping in *3001#12345#* (including the asterisks) on the phone keypad and hitting the Call button puts the device into Field Test Mode, which offers detailed information about the iPhone's hardware, including the firmware version and "LCD panel ID" number. Panel IDs that start with a "7" are those being bashed by users; screens identified with a number that beings with a "5," on the other hand, are characterized as brighter and sharper because they don't seem to have the grid pattern.

"I'm a bit disappointed in it, especially since we paid the same price as everyone else and are getting what appears to be a lesser quality product," said a user identified as "FBMike" on the Apple forum. FBMike, who has an iPhone whose screen is pegged as a "7," also posted a link to a side-by-side comparison of the two screens. User "sjb" also posted several comparative images on the MacRumors forum.

Users offered several theories about the cause, ranging from defects in the "7" screens to a registration problem between the touch screen overlay and the display to differences between screen suppliers. Teardown reports published not long after the phone's June 29 roll-out, for instance, named Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology, Sharp and Epson Imaging Devices Corp. as supplying iPhone screens.

"My suspicion is that the pattern you're seeing is a type of moire effect due to the spacing or alignment of the touch screen grid and the display pixels," theorized "sandman32" on MacRumors' forum. "If this is the case, it could be that there's some variation from one unit to the other, depending on how the sensing grid is overlaid over the display. Could be that very small variations in alignment, that could be very hard for the manufacturer to control, would cause this effect."

Other iPhone owners, however, attributed the criticism to whiny buyers -- or dismissed it outright as in those users' heads. "The dots are normal," argued "IdleWanderlust" on MacRumors. "They are the sensors for the touch screen and must be there to function. Sometimes they are more noticeable than others but this is not a defect and it will be very surprising if Apple attempts to do anything since there is nothing wrong."

"If it bothers you, exchange it. But don't keep exchanging it," suggested "MattiMattMatt" on Apple's own forum to others who had reported returning more than a half-dozen iPhones before they were satisfied. "Then it's no longer about the iPhone, it's about allowing inconsequential imperfection from poisoning your enjoyment of something worth enjoying."

Some users who did exchange iPhones, or tried to, said personnel at their local Apple retail store had pooh-poohed the problem, and told them what they were seeing was normal. Others had better luck, often over the phone with Apple support.

As for support, in other iPhone news, Apple today began offering AppleCare, its warranty extension program, for the smart phone. The US$69 AppleCare Protection Plan adds a second year to the hardware's warranty; unlike other AppleCare plans, however, the iPhone's doesn't modify the free telephone support since the device comes with two years technical support coverage during the term of the AT&T calling contract.

As is typical for AppleCare, the policy for iPhones doesn't cover a broad spectrum of possible problems, including, according to the terms and conditions ("extreme environment," "unauthorized modification" and "acts of God."

Nor, said the document, is Apple responsible for "Cosmetic damage to the Covered Equipment including but not limited to scratches, dents and broken plastic on ports."

AppleCare can be purchased any time during the first year of owning the iPhone.

This story, "iScream, uScream for a good iPhone iScreen" was originally published by Computerworld.

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