Hoping to put a lid on any perceived controversy around bent 2018 iPad Pros, Apple published a support page late Friday night that details the device’s manufacturing process. The page is titled “iPad Pro unibody enclosure design” and starts off by saying that Apple’s latest tablet is “strong, light, and durable.” The company goes on to note that the new design has flat edges “instead of the curved edges found on previous-generation iPad models.” (Some believe that these straight edges are making slight bends more noticeable and easier to see with the naked eye, and Apple later mentions that very point.)
Apple focuses the article on the Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad Pro, which has seen the most reports of a slight bend — almost always at the antenna line at the top edge of the device. Here’s that section, and I’ve emphasized the most important parts:
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.
These precision manufacturing techniques and a rigorous inspection process ensure that these new iPad Pro models meet an even tighter specification for flatness than previous generations. This flatness specification allows for no more than 400 microns of deviation across the length of any side — less than the thickness of four sheets of paper. The new straight edges and the presence of the antenna splits may make subtle deviations in flatness more visible only from certain viewing angles that are imperceptible during normal use. These small variances do not affect the strength of the enclosure or the function of the product and will not change over time through normal use.
As you can see, Apple is reiterating what it previously told The Verge last month: any slight bends are a result of the iPad Pro’s manufacturing and cooling process, and the company seems to suggest that so long as any “subtle deviations in flatness” aren’t perceptible during normal scenarios — meaning when you’re facing the iPad head on and actually using it — they shouldn’t be a concern to customers. The 400-micron flatness specification first revealed by hardware VP Dan Riccio also gets another mention (this time with the added context that it applies across the length of any side).
If 300-400 microns is noticeably bent, I think this is a problem. The photos of bent iPads people are sharing look like they’re bent a lot more than 0.4mm. But it’s only 5.9mm thick so maybe 0.4mm *is* noticeable?
— John Gruber (@gruber) December 21, 2018
But Apple doesn’t provide a visual example of what an iPad with a 400-micron deviation looks like. What is this in laymen’s terms? Is an iPad Pro that lifts off a flat surface out of spec? There are several images of bent iPad Pros on the web that are clearly warped beyond that measurement, but should people be stacking sheets of paper to figure out the close calls?
But I read the bit about the antenna line and flat edges making any deviations “more visible” to mean yes, even bends that fall into this spec might be noticeable if you know where to look. When a device gets as thin as 0.23 inches (5.9 millimeters), your eye is going to have an easier time finding slight imperfections. I’ve seen relatively few complaints about bending with the Wi-Fi-only model, as it’s got metal running around the entire outer edge without the antenna splits.
Again, as it first told The Verge last month, Apple is adamant that a bend within spec will not compromise the device’s structural strength, impact performance, or grow worse over time. The company doesn’t go into how it’s so confident in that statement, but presumably the iPad Pro has been through a gamut of testing. The support page mentions its inspection process, but doesn’t address durability checks.
Apple urges anyone who believes their iPad Pro enclosure has a warp or bend beyond 400 microns to contact the company’s support channels, and also reminds customers of its 14-day return policy. The statement stops short of issuing a formal replacement program for devices outside that return window, but the punt to customer support tells me that representatives are likely well aware of the situation.