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  • BendGate Revisited: Number Nine and Counting?

    November 4th, 2014

    When the first reports appeared about the alleged vulnerability of the iPhone 6 Plus to bending in your back pocket, Apple moved fast to respond. Only nine incidents were reported they said, and they invited selected members of the press to view their wireless handset stress tests. Even better was a test from Consumer Reports, who tends to be overly critical of Apple gear, which concluded that the iPhone 6 Plus wasn’t overly vulnerable to bending in your back pocket.

    This entire brouhaha arose when someone posted a video allegedly showing how easy it was to bend his iPhone 6 Plus. Of course, videos can be deceptive, and it’s quite possible he took extraordinary methods to bend the thing that weren’t photographed. More to the point, with targeted ads greeting anyone who wanted to watch that YouTube video, it’s very possible that revenue for ad clicks was a motivation. Sure, the video may have been totally accurate, but millions of hits meant plenty of ad revenue. Bad news can easily go viral whether true or not.

    Not long thereafter, SquareTrade, a company that sells extended warranties for tech gear, did their own informal test. Only the office bodybuilder, who could bench press over 400 pounds in a single bound, managed to successfully bend an iPhone 6 Plus. The moral of the story appeared to be that, if you tried hard enough, you could damage a $750 aluminum-clad mobile computer, but why?

    While Apple might be lenient about replacing damaged gear, clear signs of abuse would probably not receive a warm response from the local Apple Genius.

    So the story mostly died then and there and Apple went on to sell record numbers of iPhones. Samsung’s mobile handset sales continued to flag, and efforts to exploit the problem went for naught. It was fun for a while on the late night comedy shows, but they finally returned to political humor and other topics to get laughs.

    But some things that are old can be new again. So this week, a certain tech site claimed that someone had collected 300 pictures of bent iPhones. The intended purpose was to put the lie to Apple’s claim that only nine complaints were received. But it doesn’t quite pass the smell test.

    Remember that Apple made the original statement not long after the new iPhones went on sale. As millions of customers put their gear into service, it’s inevitable that a small number might be damaged. It’s also possible some forced the issue deliberately in the hope they could persuade Apple to replace their damaged iPhones.

    Even if the 300 number is correct, and perhaps represents a small portion of those impacted, the total would likely still represent a really tiny fraction of the millions of units sold. Tests from apparently reputable sources have already demonstrated that there is no product defect. But no mobile device is invulnerable to damage if you try hard enough to abuse it.

    Could the new iPhones be made stronger without necessarily making them much thicker or heavier? I suppose, although I wouldn’t pretend to guess how much the product would cost if more expensive and stronger materials were used? It’s a matter of being practical. Under normal use, your iPhone, even the 6 Plus, should be perfectly robust. If you drop it, or make an extraordinary effort to bend it, all bets are off.

    If those who collected 300 pictures actually have evidence of damage due to extreme vulnerability to bending, rather than deliberate attempts by people to get their 15 minutes, it still doesn’t prove Apple lied. The belief that a statement made on one day based on circumstances that existed on that day must remain true for the rest of time without change is downright foolish. I can’t imagine that any rational person would believe otherwise.

    Of course blaming Apple is nothing new.

    Shortly after Apple Pay first went live two weeks ago, there were reports that some Bank of America customers had their credit cards charged twice after making transactions with their new iPhones. Bank of America said it was an Apple issue, others said it was the bank. The media made a big play of it for a few hours, but it was reported that only 1,000 customers were impacted. All of them got full credit for the bogus charges.

    It was a fairly routine, if annoying, early launch glitch, and was apparently fixed very quickly. After the initial furore over yet another alleged Apple scandal, it all died down. This doesn’t mean there won’t be more glitches, but they will no doubt be addressed too.

    I also wonder if a similar level of coverage was given to the story that a rival digital payment scheme, CurrentC, backed by major retailers, experienced a major hack while still in the beta test phase. Apparently at least some of the email addresses of testers were acquired by hackers.

    Assuming CurrentC goes live as scheduled early next year, it’ll still be a potential nightmare. You’ll be making payments with bank drafts, although credit cards will reportedly be accepted. Right now, beta testers have to give their social security numbers and driver account information to set up accounts, though that is also  expected to change when the service goes live. But imagine the consequences if any of that information was stolen.

    In contrast, Apple Pay doesn’t send your credit card information, your name, address or other personal information to vendors, nor does it store any of that data in any retrievable fashion. With all those high-profile data breaches over the past year or so, whom do you trust with your credit card data? Do you trust the merchant? What if their credit card terminals are hacked? CurrentC is not a fully formed product, and there are already some questions about security.

    Security is one reason there is an Apple Pay in the first place, so merchants — and the thieves who might hack their payment systems — can’t take your personal information.

    In any case, when Apple’s involved, doesn’t there have to be a scandal?



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