Shortly after the new Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone came out in September 2014, the first reports from surprised users began coming in about the thinner, larger devices actually bending while being carried in pants pockets. Some affected consumers vented their anger on social media, where news sites reported on the phenomenon.
Those relatively isolated incidents inspired the folks at SquareTrade, a vendor that offers extended warranties for a fee on a wide range of electronic devices, to begin its own testing of smartphones to measure if and when they can bend when being carried by consumers. SquareTrade developed a special rig it calls a BendBot to measure such bending. The device (pictured) holds the phone and then applies pressure so measurements can be taken when a phone bends or finally breaks. The tester is meant to replicate the force on a smartphone when a user places it in his or her back pocket.
Recently the company used the BendBot to test Samsung’s new Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone as well as the iPhone 6 Plus and the new HTC One M9. The test results showed the Galaxy S6 Edge beginning to bend as 110 pounds of force was placed on it, which was the same amount of force that caused the iPhone to begin to bend, according to SquareTrade. But the Galaxy’s screen edge cracked at that pressure, while the iPhone screen had not yet cracked. The HTC One M9 deformed and became unusable at 120 pounds of pressure.
Aileen Abaya, a spokesperson for SquareTrade, told eWEEK in an April 7 interview that the company does a broad range of device testing so that consumers have more information when they buy their own devices. “As smartphones are getting thinner, we thought it would be a good thing to add to our arsenal of robots that we have to test breakability,” she said. The recent bending tests are being added to their existing drop, water-resistance and sliding tests that are also conducted on devices.
That’s a good thing, and it follow in the footsteps of other worthwhile organizations like Consumer Reports, which has been testing and evaluating the quality and safety of consumer goods for decades.
But to me, the testing is not the issue here.
Instead, what I find baffling is that many consumers demand thinner and sleeker devices but then are surprised to find that those devices are actually more delicate and fragile—and perhaps more prone to bending—than the thicker, tougher phones they’ve carried and used in the past.
That’s crazy. There is likely a point where thinner phones cannot be made as strong as thicker devices. We might be there already.
So rather than criticize vendors for building paper-thin devices that can potentially bend, maybe we all need to stop demanding super-thin phones and then pushing our phones into our pockets without considering that, under some circumstances, they will bend. That’s not a design flaw, but perhaps an erroneous consumer expectation.