As seen on Forbes.com
By: Anthony Wing Kosner
The iPhone 6 Plus is by all accounts a beautiful piece of technology. It is large but delicately thin with smooth curves of machined aluminum. It is a pleasure to hold—but reports indicate it may not hold its shape.
Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy made a video today to investigate complaints that some brand new iPhone 6 units got bent in people’s pockets (see video above and stills below.) So far, a few photos of bent phones have popped up under the hashtag #bentgate. All of this just happened since Friday and there is no evidence of a “coverup” on Apple’s part, so there is no actual “gate.” And, as Derek Kessler writes on iMore, the iPhone 5 and 5S are also made out of aluminum and can also be bent: ”A phone that’s made out of a generally rigid but deceptively thin metal shell can be permanently deformed if too much force is applied.” He even claims to own an iPhone 5 “with a slight bend to it,” himself.
So if there is no “gate” and this isn’t a new phenomenon, why the fuss? First, even for Apple fans like Hilsenteger it’s always fun to have something to criticize. Second, Apple watchers are always on the lookout for the company over reaching. Year after year it significantly improves its products and sets sales records. Surely the s-curve fill flatten at some point?
Other than envy or sour grapes, there is something at stake here very close to Apple’s soul. User experience is largely about avoiding unexpected behavior. When we say that Apple’s products are intuitive we mean that they do what we think they will do even if we are using them for the first time. By moving into Samsung’s phablet territory Apple is sending the implicit message to its customers that its version will provide a superior user experience.
The thinness, the lightness, the smooth edges and the metal build are all supposed to serve to delight the user. But since it is an iPhone, albeit a large one, users that are used to putting their phone in their pocket will continue to do so as long as the pocket is large enough. (This is no mean feat for the 6 Plus!) So the fact that a routine trip to the back pocket could lead to a permanently bent (and possibly unusable) iPhone should be uncomfortable for Apple.
Hilsenteger applied the full force of his thumbs to his brand-new iPhone 6 Plus and the image above is the result. What is not shown in this video is what happened when he tried to straighten the aluminum back out. The previously flexible screen cracked. See the image he posted on Instagram below for the sad sight.
The hard-earned lessons for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users are clearly:
1) Do not keep your new iPhone in any pocket that is remotely tight, and
2) If your phone does bend DO NOT try to bend it back!
The takeaway for Apple is trickier. Phil Schiller seemed to take great pride in announcing that the 6 Plus is just .2 mm thicker than the 6. But given the fact that the 6 Plus has a third more surface area than the 6, that measly extra 3% of thickness should have been a clue that it could have significant structural weaknesses. Indeed, Hilsenteger describes how he applied the force to the center of the phone but the bend occurred up near the button cutouts.
A snarky tweet from LG in Germany (above) chided Apple about #bentgate that, ”It wouldn’t have happened with the LG G Flex.” The point is well-taken and I would look for Apple to explore more flexible materials for the next generation of the 6 Plus. Nickel titanium, the material that flexible eyeglass frames are made out of, makes it clear that a metal can be both strong and super-flexible. It is also 5-10 times the cost of aluminum. It is also heavier. When I asked Hilsenteger if the 6 Plus should have been made out of titanium instead of aluminum he immediately replied “space grade!”
Not one to let a bent iPhone get him down, Hilsenteger tried to see if you could similarly destroy a Samsung Note 3. Although unlovely in comparison to the iPhone 6 Plus, the Note 3 could not be bent! Maybe slightly warped, but definitely not bent. The moral of the story (for now) is that if you want to keep your phablet in your pants pocket—get a Samsung! If you want an oversized iPhone, keep it in your purse or shirt pocket.