The iPhone 3GS rattle – Tale of a manufacturer’s defect?

The iPhone 3GS is a rockin’ smartphone in so many ways. Faster performance, upgraded hardware, a full-featured (finally) iPhone OS 3.0 – we almost couldn’t ask for more. That’s why it’s so sad that the iPhone 3GS’s build quality has me singing the “shake, rattle and roll” blues. Some sort of hardware defect has reared its ugly head on many iPhone 3GS’s, leaving them shaking and rattling, literally.

I first noticed the problem during one of my obsessive hardware tests on the iPhone 3GS. When I say “hardware test,” I literally mean I was testing the iPhone 3GS’s hardware build-quality. The iPhone 3GS proved just as solid as the iPhone 3G – no matter how much I twisted, bent or pressed down on the case, the iPhone 3GS’s precision-machined seams stood fast. Then I started tapping away at the iPhone 3GS casing.

A tiny little rattle piqued my ears when I tapped the screen. WTF? I investigated some more by tapping the backside. Another slight rattle, a bit louder this time. I tapped the upper backside (next to the camera lens). Score. I found the source. There’s a rattle coming from just underneath the power button/camera lens area!

Video demo after the break.

No problem. I’ll just take it into the Apple Store and have them replace it with a brand-spankin’ new White 32GB iPhone 3GS. Afterall, my iPhone 3G didn’t exhibit this problem. It’s probably a one-off hardware defect plaguing my particular iPhone 3GS. Right? Wrong.

The iPhone 3GS rattle is a known problem. The Apple Store Genius knew all about my complaint before I was even called from the line (queue, for those of you that think “soccer” is “football”). He confirmed that the iPhone 3GS has some sort of defect that causes it to rattle when tapped. He mentioned something about a loose connection between the power button and some other random component, as well as something about it affecting White 3GS’s more than Black 3GS’s. I’m not so convinced it’s just the White variant (I’ll tell you why in a bit).

iPhone 3GS rattle from IntoMobile on Vimeo.

The Genius working my case told me it would be futile to replace the iPhone 3GS at the moment, as I had intended to do. I would simply end up with a new iPhone 3GS that rattled just like my original iPhone 3GS. My best bet, said the Genius, was to come back in a couple weeks and hope Apple has issued a fix and ships out updated iPhone 3GS stocks to replace defective units (not verbatim, but his words).

Apple is supposed to be known for their top-notch build- and material-quality. I thought maybe this Genius is screwing with me.

I went through the store, embarrassingly within eye-shot of the Genius that just told me that many 3GS’s were rattling. I proceeded to hold a handful of White and Black iPhone 3GS’s up to my ear, tapping with my other hand. I must have looked slightly crazy to everyone shopping in the store, and just plain stupid to the aforementioned Genius. But, I managed to find a rattle in every 3GS that I tapped.

There’s an Apple Support discussion going on about this very rattle. Some posts point to the looser “silent” switch. Some say the rattling is coming from the vibrator (no, not that kind). Others say it’s the auto-focus mechanism. You might want to check out the discussions on HoFo and MacRumors as well.

Is the rattle a hardware defect? That’s what the Genius led me to believe. He told me that the White 3GS’s are more commonly affected. He even told me there might be a fix soon. On the other hand, the rattle might just be a side-effect of “improved” hardware. Or, as Howard Forums user frikfrak posits, “Could the rattle be the compass?”

What say you, iPhone 3GS users?

  • Mike

    Black 32 gb. My silent switch is A little loose. Hold silent, volume rocker, power switch an ratteling goes away. Same on my 3g no biggie

  • Dick

    Mines fine. It’s you Will.

  • MJfan

    I’ve also experienced said “rattle,” and it’s not impressing me. I’ll stick it out to see what Apple may propose. My Home button is tight as well…I don’t hear or feel a “click” when I press it.

  • Suck me

    I had this problem on my iPhone 3gs and apple gave me a new 32gb 3gs

  • Jose

    I do get a rattle when I turn the vibrate switch on. Another thing I noticed while cleaning the lens camera is that if you tap it while cleaning you can hear that the lens moves. Is this normal?

  • Michael

    Been through 4 due to network/reception issues and everyone had the rattle. 32gb whites each time

    • tiffany

      @ michael… just wondering is you were wuth bell. and did our phone say no servise and than say no sim card?

  • Jean V

    No rattle. Black 32GB – 3GS. Not so much as a hint of a rattle.

    However, my headphone connector seems loose-ish and the headphones pop out with the lease provocation. I don’t see how I’ll be able to even take walks while listening to my iPhone’s iPod feature as the least movement ejects the headphone plug from the phone and doing so much as turning my head makes the sound pop and sputter. WTF?

    I’m used to exercising vigorously while listening to my Sansa pseudo-iPod thingy from Radio Shack. I thought I was graduating to the big time and now this is a bit scary.

    Anyone else with a poppy headphone jack?

    Thanks!

  • Aditya

    Black 16GB. I get the rattle too. Interestingly, I didn’t find the rattle while tapping, but while a video is being compressed before uploading to youtube. Also, trying to upload multiple videos one after the other caused the app to crash – thrice. Uploading one, closing, reopening and uploading another works fine.

  • T

    Yup my white 3G S rattles too!!!

  • lele

    My iphone 3gs black acquired in italy rattles, too. Maybe this is not a trouble. I think/hope is some cable and not some of expensive hardware.

  • Shaun

    White 16GB 3GS. Rattle found especially when you tap the top left hand corner of the back by the camera. I was initially worried about this but went into the Apple Store just off Oxford Street. Picked up 5 or 6 3GS’s (White and Black) and they all had a rattle. It is annoying but I am hoping a fix will be sorted soon as I don’t really want to put up with the rattle for another 18 months. A real shame as other than this the 3GS is a fantastic piece of kit.

  • Ian

    Yep, just received brand new white 16GB iphone by post (PAYG). Opened it, all fine build quality seems better than the first 3G I had. Put it down on my desk and ‘ratttttttlllllllleeeee’. Googled this straight away and found this thread. Kinda made me feel better now I know it’s not just me! At this stage I would guess at it being the focus mechanism, all my other buttons are tight. Will stay tuned to this to see what happens !

  • Ross

    I just phones apple about this before and the person that I spoke to on the phone told me that it was caused by the shake to shuffle ipod function

  • David T

    32G Black – rattles when tapped. I just assumed it had to do with the vibrater. Not really a big deal, unless it leads to something disconnecting. Actually, it does rattle when I shake it along its long side. Great…I’m really glad I read this post. Now it’s gonna bother the hell out of me

  • Jim

    Glad to see that other people have the same problem. I bought my 32Gb black 3GS a week ago and was about to complain. After spending £275 on a phone I don’t expect it to rattle when I put it on my desk, also you have to wonder if whatever is loose is likely to break later….

  • Conner

    Yep, same here! Black 3GS, 32GB 3days old, aquired in Italy. Same rattling noise when tapped top right…! In some forum someone opend it and found a loose screw! I hope it doesn’t short circuit anything…

  • Jason

    I am on my fourth White 32gb 3gs and in addition to the rattle the sim tray does not fit flush. My black 16gb 3g was flawless, I wish I had not upgraded to this piece of crap. It is driving me crazy!

  • Ryan

    I don’t understand why everybody cares so much, it makes the rattle noise when you put it down on a desk in complete silence, big deal. I’ve managed to live with mine. Its an amazing phone i think i can put up with a little rattle to have something this great.

  • Justin JDOG Marks

    Upgraded to an 8G 3G phone last week, and decided to exchange it for the 16G 3G-S today in black. I noticed when lightly putting it down on the table it did the rattle, so I started tapping the phone lightly, and noticed it does seem to be coming from the camera.

    The regular 3G didn’t do this, so logic tells me it’s just the autofocus camera. Of course that makes no sense if it’s all software based. Considering the high number of reported cases my guess is the lens system in the new camera. If that’s the case then it’s normal. 8 extra gigs, video, better camera, and faster phone with a faint rattle when provoked… I’ll keep the 3GS :)

  • Brad Wrye

    Just got the black 16 3gs. found the problem the 3rd day i had it. Bugged the hell out of me till i found this thread.

  • Kristian Thrane

    I’ve just recieved my Black 32 GB in Denmark (via 3.dk) and i have the same problem. Being very observant of these kind of errors, i’m pretty anoyed by the rattle.

    Will probably contact Apple for at suggestion …

    Thanks for hosting this thread :)

  • Ed

    Just noticed the same rattle after a week of have my new 16g White 3gs. Thought it was broken till I saw this thread but seems like it’s almost every 3gs does this! On a positive note this phone is amazing who needs a computer anymore!

  • Erik907

    I’ve had my 16g iPhone 3G(s) for a month now and just today noticed a rattle. Drives me crazy since I paid full price of $600.00. This thread makes me feel a bit better though.

  • ML

    My dad works for apple and the rattle will not b fixed. The rattle when u shake it a part right below the camera moves. This peice is the censor that tells the iPhone 3GS to reload the internet page for different apps and the shake to shuffle feature. For the new iPhone to b released early to mid july they r puting the shake censor in the middle on its own so it has nothing to rattle against. Your iPhones r fine

    • Catalinus

      hey , i am from romania , i bought a 3Gs16 gb black and after 1 week i went to the store wit this "rattle" problem , in 3 weeks i had a brand new one in exchange , gues what rattle too now i saw this posts here and beleve me i am so amased about how uninformed are this apple guys , i had to wait 3 weeks to change m y phone that was perfectly fine……………

  • Slinga

    Hey… I’ve also got this rattle in my black 16gb 3gs… Wondering what it was I googled it and sure enough there is a thread on it… Are you sure it is a shake censor rattling? Reason I ask is that since I read this thread I’ve tapped over my iPhone and sure enough it comes from the camera lense area, so as I originally thought it to be something to do with the camera lense/focus, I loaded the camera app and tapped it again and it seemed a lot louder and as if somthing is looser, I tried this a few times with the camera app on and off and it is defo a more pronounced rattle with the app on… So does the camera focus work abit like a cd drive laser focus and floats when on and is held back (but not solidly) when off?

    Try it out see if yours does it… It seems to be only the camera app that gets it to do it worse…. I could be wrong as I have no idea how the camera focus works on the iPhone 3gs

    I wonder if apple actually know where it comes from or if they are assuming “it must be x” as the iPhone 3g has shake to shuffel so therefore has the censor but no rattle

    • Dbones

      you are spot on!!! I have had my new black 16gb 3gs for about 15 hours and the “rattle” is apparent!!!!

      and is consistent with your description regarding the camera app. on!

  • everlast66

    I have the same rattling nosie on my 3GS and it has been driving me mad since the second-third day after purchase when I found the noise :(

    At least I CAN ASSURE YOU THE NOISE IS COMMING FROM THE CAMERA AF MECHANISM!

    I did disassemble mine on the second week to fix the problem and then figured out it’s the camera. The camera can be easily disconnected from the board as it comes with a short ribbon cable and a flat conector that clicks to the MB. When I remove the cam – NO RATTLING. When I tap the camera itself I can clearly hear the sound. Next time I take my 3GS apart I will make a video to show the culpirit.

    I thought to put a small piece of tape or just a bit of grease aroung the central bit of the lense that seems to be making the noise being not attached but was afraid not to damage it.

  • RAM

    I just bought iPhone 3GS 16 Black
    from Mobily Saudi Arabia
    and it has the rattle sound
    I was very annoyed with it until I read this article
    thank you

  • Joachim

    Hi, yeah i bought a new white 16gb 3gs few days ago n noticed this problem which pissed me off, i was guna get it changed til a went to the shop n other ones where doing it aswell, but my rattle seems abit louder.. anyway ive been searching the net and this is the first proper thing ive heard about it.. shame when you spend £450 to get a rattleing phone

  • pg13

    I too am glad I came across this thread. I have a blk 3gs and the main post here could have come from me. I did EXACTLY the same thing, including walking around tapping the other iphones.
    I still hate it, but it somehow helps (a little) to know that others have the same iwoes.

    Thanks all.

  • tup

    Hi there ! i from Malaysia,I have the same rattling nosie on my 3GS when i tap the top left hand corner of the back by the camera.

  • Quentin

    Mine makes the rattle, it’s the volume rocker on mine.

  • sammy

    Hey whats the matter with my iphone 3gs? The wifi cant receive signal anymore. It just went off suddenly!

  • inallhonesty

    Get a life! Have you honestly got nothing better to do than stand in a store rattling phones? Jsus, just don’t buy a car you’ll end up stopping every 5 feet wondering what the rumbling sound is?

  • tolhumexy

    I dont mind the rattle until i hear it when ever I speak to someone. Why do people think it’s ok? 02 swapped mine but the new one does exactly the same. It ain’t right and Apple should replace them surely? Don’t ever accept shoddy build else we all get conned. £400 items should be sound.

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