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The Dark Side of Apple Design: From Antennagate to Bendgate

By Chris Maxcer
Sep 25, 2014 6:42 AM PT
iphone-6-plus-bendgate

When Apple -- which is clearly one of the world's best companies at design -- makes a misstep, it's amplified by a wild combination of user dismay and hater glee. Because there are millions of users and many haters, a design flaw can turn into an instant public relations tornado.

Enter Bendgate, featuring the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

As reports hit the Internet that some iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users had managed to bend their thin and shiny new iPhones while wearing something as rare as a pair of jeans and putting the iPhone inside a front pocket, Unbox Therapy posted an iPhone 6 Plus Bend Test that quickly jumped to more than 20 million views.

In the video, a small bend near the volume buttons is easily bent much further by applying a bit of intentional finger pressure to the iPhone.

Ouch.

As near as I can tell, I don't believe that Apple warned any customers that putting their iPhone 6 or 6 Plus inside a front jeans pocket could result in a bent iPhone. Since this one of the most popular places to store smartphones, it stands to reason Apple would design its iPhones to withstand the body heat and cotton-based pressure of a typical human.

Maybe not.

Maybe you're not supposed to put your smartphone in your pockets. Maybe I've been doing it wrong all along.

Or maybe the effort to design a cool object has resulted in an over-engineered thing of beauty that's not meant to be used in the real world. Notice I said, used, not abused.

A Brief History of Bent Smartphones

So what gives? Some of the reports indicate front pockets, but there also may not be as many true reports of bending as the spoof (and customer fear) suggest. As for back pocket bending, the risk seems painfully obvious to most people (I believe). But front-pocket bends? To me, this speaks to a design flaw. I doubt Apple set out to create a gorgeous device to be used around the world that is also painfully fragile.

Because really, come on, if a smartphone can't stand up to the rigors of a freaking front pocket, the company ought to warn its potential customers. Seriously. A front pocket is not a back pocket, and nobody sits on their own front pocket.

Sure, I understand that strong pressure can be created through a combination of tight jeans and posture -- and that processors generate heat -- but I also expect Apple to engineer a smartphone to handle this awful, rough-and-tumble front-pocket environment. Even with keys.

When Apple first built the aluminum unibody MacBooks, it transformed flexible, creaking polycarbonate laptops into stiff things of beauty. They looked fantastic and became better. I would hope that Apple did some serious bend tests with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, especially since bending, it turns out, isn't as uncommon as you might think.

There's a history of bent smartphones that goes back at least as far as the chunky little iPhone 4, according to a roundup from Cult of Mac. Some of these bent smartphones sort of "magically" ended up bent, with their users apparently utterly unaware of how that might have occurred.

Regardless of how, what the report does reveal is that many smartphones made out of metal have bent, including the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Sony Xperia Z1, the Nokia Lumia 925, the BlackBerry Q10, and the HTC EVO 4G LTE.

Apple Needs to Do Better

Apple isn't everybody else, though. Apple needs to do better. Seriously, this kind of challenge is one of the reasons I buy Apple. Durability. Reliability. With inspiring design.

Unfortunately, Apple doesn't always handle its design mistakes particularly well. Remember Antennagate? The fancy antenna was wrapped around the iPhone 4, but when a person's hand bridged a gap around the edge, the iPhone might lose reception and drop a call.

Even Steve Jobs tried to brush the issue under the rug before the company shipped out free cases and bumpers to customers.

The question now isn't whether an iPhone 6 Plus can bend, the question is how easily can it be bent, and what's the risk to your average consumer? Is my iPhone 6 going to bend the first time I leave it in my front pocket when I sit down in a car? Do I have to always remember to remove it from my front pocket before I get into a car or sit down at a restaurant? If I don't, is Apple going to claim that such usage is beyond their responsibility . . . and that bending it is my fault?

I sure as hell hope not.

Otherwise, Apple has done the equivalent of designing a fishing rod that is not supposed to get wet.

Can you imagine hearing this when you tried to return a defective fishing rod? "Oh, well, you bought the Fishing Rod 6 Plus, and you're using it wrong. If you expect it to get wet while you're out fishing on the water, you should have bought a waterproof case for it before you abused it. We can't accept responsibility for this situation. Sorry."

If the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus really does bend easily, I'm sure the class-action lawsuit attorneys are busy getting ready for a piece of the action.

What Should Apple Do?

First, Apple should acknowledge that it's aware of the reports and is investigating. (So easy.) Next, Apple needs a response. Is the iPhone 6 bendy or not? How confident are you in that, Apple? Will you watch a customer put the iPhone 6 in their front pocket and then sit down in an Apple store and then replace the bent iPhone when they stand back up? Are you that confident?

This is the core, here. How confident is Apple when it comes to this issue? Silence is not confidence -- not when you're a public company with the world's most popular consumer electronic device ever invented. Confidence in the design means Apple will put its money where its mouth is: If you bend it, we will replace it. If Apple won't replace it, Apple is tacitly telling us that our iPhones are fragile and that bending them is our fault.

Nice. I'd like to see that message wrapped up in a feel-good TV commercial.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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