AMITIAE - Tuesday 7 April 2015

Cassandra: Apple, Samsung and the Risks of Low-hanging Fruit

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Samsung has its own Bendgate now, but in another display of its hypocrisy, it huffed and puffed, then cried foul, do the test again. I had a look at this new dent in the image that Samsung likes to paint, and a look back at Apple's own bendy iPhone problems which were created more in the mind of the press than in the lab.

It is a physical fact that if an object is long and thin, applying downwards pressure in the centre will cause it to flex. I have on my desk a pile of fairly thick books a plastic ball-pen, a CD case (from an old student project), a couple of hard disks and an iPhone 6. Starting with the books, these will bend quite easily with relatively small amounts of pressure. The pen takes a bit more, but with my two thumbs at about centre-point, it will flex a little, although the force required is much more than for the books.

Brittle items

That CD jewel case bends easily and the brittleness of the plastic tells me that only a little more would shower plastic shards all over my desk. For obvious reasons, I am reluctant to put too much pressure on the hard disks; but one has a fairly thick plastic case and this bends slightly, although took a lot of force; the other (from the same manufacturer) has a thinner case and curves slightly with much less pressure.

The iPhone? Again, I am reluctant to press too hard especially as this has already been proven to bend, although with more pressure than I could reasonably apply. Why repeat such an experiment? What happens in the lab, however, may not be quite the same as on the road.


I use that term deliberately, having seen the effects of collisions several times when I was a policeman (and having experienced them myself on a couple of occasions): the forces unleashed by such a coming together is beyond what many can envisage. No matter what arguments people put forward for not wearing seat-belts or crash helmets, you cannot beat the laws of physics; and a lab can never create the reality of life events.

Aware that the iPhone 6 might bend if sufficient pressure were applied, when I took delivery I took careful note of the theories put forward at the time. It was suggested that an iPhone, sideways in a pocket might have sufficient force applied if the garment were too tight, I have never found the device to slip that way round: it always sits vertically in my pockets.

I have some jeans which are way too tight for me. Even when wearing respectable work clothes, if I sit down the cloth is taut. There were a few (9) complaints about bending initially. There were probably more. Five months later, with all the day to day abuse, there is no evidence of any bending on my phone. I have dropped it a number of times, but (lucky me) no breaks, just some minor denting on the corners; and a single, shallow scratch on the glass screen.

That the early iPhone 6 Plus (which I do not have) did bend is beyond doubt and as ever, much was made of this, with a host of articles that can be found via Google ("iPhone 6", "bend"). Among those I found are:

  • Opinion: Why the iPhone 6 bends and why it wouldn't be an issue if Apple addressed it properly (Dom Esposito, 9to5 Mac);

  • Goodbye bendgate: Here's how to fix your bent iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus [Video] (Anu Passary, TechTimes);

  • iPhone 6 bending: Common sense for an uncommon problem (Ross Rubin, VentureBeat);

  • My name is Dan and I had a bent iPhone (Dan Rubin, The Verge).

There were many more of course. And there was also an advertisement from Samsung that can be seen in an AppleInsider article by Mikey Campbell. The Galaxy Note 4 did bend with the forces applied, but did not break (and who on earth selected that awful music in the video?). Apple also did such testing and allowed a number of journalists to visit the lab. As Mikey Cambell mentions in that article, Consumer Reports decided to look at the iPhone too, finding

. . . the handsets can withstand 60 pounds of force (about 27 kgf) and 90 pounds of force (about 41 kgf), respectively. That test found Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 takes substantial force without bending until the screen shatters at 150 pounds of pressure (approximately 68 kgf).

Galaxy Note 6 Edge
Galaxy Note 6 Edge - Image from Samsung

Now we have the Galaxy Note 6 Edge, which has been remarkable in the number of ways that Samsung - despite previously touting them as features that differentiated its products from the competition (Apple) - produced the latest device without SD card ports, with no removable battery, and without waterproofing. Also, having tried to ridicule Apple with the bending iPhones, the Galaxy 6 has this feature too.

Samsung is now wriggling on the hook it baited and does not like it one bit. Foul: the test was not done right. It was however a test that SquareTrade administers to all smartphones. SquareTrade sells insurance plans and wants to find out the extent of its potential liabilities before signing customers up. As Karissa Bell on Mashable reports, SquareTrade tested the Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge, the iPhone 6 Plus, and the HTC One M9:

  • The iPhone 6 Plus did bend at 110 pounds pressure and was still working, but went up to 179 pounds before it broke;
  • The HTC bent at 120 pounds but was also considered broken as the power switch "popped off";
  • The Samsung bent at 110 pounds and the "display cracked on the phone's curved edge" but was still working up to 149 pounds, but then it "shattered completely."

Some people are not good losers and Samsung in its official statement was critical of the test: the same for each phone, remember. Samsung wants SquareTrade to do the test again, using different criteria for the tests: move the goalposts. Phil Nickinson on Android Central is even more outraged than Samsung and does a good job of carrying the water for the company (irony mode, ON).

At the end of the Samsung statement there is video of a three-point test (and they obviously still have the same person to choose music). This takes the Galaxy up to 81 lbf: it bends but does not break and returns to its original (unbent) state. The statement suggests that normal force when a person sits is 66lbf (30kgf), but this is not what SquareTrade was testing (see above).

At the end of the statement, there is the comment, "we are confident that all our smartphones are not bendable under daily usage." Perhaps they would have been better off saying nothing (especially last November) as picking apparently low-hanging fruit may have its own risks.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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