The Shoe on the Other Foot Report

April 8th, 2015

One of the larger media freakouts about Apple last year was all about “BendGate,” the allegation that the iPhone 6 Plus was unduly sensitive to bending, even in your back pocket. It all started with someone’s possibly bogus YouTube video, in which deformed a tech gadget that costs upwards of $750 without the carrier subsidy.

Yes, the video showed the bend, but it’s easy to omit the extraordinary steps the poster may have taken to get it that way. There’s no real way to know what really happened, but the video went viral and soon Apple had to explain that the their largest and most expensive iPhone wasn’t defective, that they had, at the time, only seven complaints about such damage. They even took selected journalists on a tour of their test facility so you could see exactly how these products were tested. Even Consumer Reports got into the act and proclaimed all iPhones to be sufficiently robust under normal use and service.

SquareTrade, that company who sells you extended warranties for all sorts of tech gear, performed more informal tests of the iPhone 6 Plus with real people, and only one employee, a weightlifter, managed to succeed in bending the unit.

So the story ended there, except for some Apple haters who actually believed there was a problem. Some people can’t be bothered with facts.

That takes us to Samsung, who used to be on the top of the world, but has, of late, suffered from falling mobile handset sales and profits. They are being squeezed at the low end of the handset market by even cheaper gear and, at the high end, by Apple.

With record sales of iPhones, Samsung had to compete, and so they decided to ape Apple more closely than ever. So we have the Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge, both of which use metal casings, sealed so you can’t easily replace the battery, and the ability to add a memory card no longer exists. To compete with Apple Pay, there’s now Samsung Pay.

To be sure, they look quite attractive, though I wonder about the value of a display that spills over the edge. But this is the company who also sells high-end TV sets with curved screens, so useless must be in Samsung’s DNA.

In any case, the new Samsungs are getting rave reviews from the same people who gave their previous gear rave reviews, but it’s questionable what these gadgets offer that’s so compelling compared to an iPhone. Yes, there are some extra features, and the usual collection of mostly unneeded junkware to fiddle with. As an Android smartphone, however, it appears to be as good as any.

But it’s not invulnerable to damage by any means. So SquareTrade this time staged formal tests pitting the iPhone 6 Plus against a Galaxy S6. Both deformed under 110 pounds of pressure, which is quite a lot mind you, and nothing anyone has to explain. But the Samsung’s glass cover was shattered, while the iPhone was merely bent.

Since putting that level of pressure to any thin and light tech gadget is apt to cause damage, Samsung need make no apologies. Coming in worse than the iPhone, however, was sufficient to force Samsung to explain. You see, they attacked Apple last year for the perceived vulnerability of the largest iPhone to extreme bending.

When caught under a similar situation, their response was to the point, “We are confident that all our smartphones are not bendable under daily usage.” I agree. Based on SquareTrade’s results, it takes extreme pressure to deform this device, and it shouldn’t happen under normal use and service. And customers need not worry about premature breakage unless they drop one of these things.

Apple has been quiet, however, over Samsung’s comeuppance. They show class, something Samsung ought to learn.

So is it really BendGate 2.0? No, not really. But Samsung’s own glass house has been exposed. That’s the real story.

Now I realize Samsung is in a touchy situation here. While financials appear to have improved in the last quarter, profits are still way down. So maybe they’ve hit bottom and the situation is stabilizing. Certainly I wouldn’t want to see any company suffer. But this is a cutthroat market, and Samsung is no industry darling.

So the stakes are high for Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones. They go on sale in 20 countries on April 10th. Will customers be lining up at dealers around the world to get them? Remember that iPhones are sold at fewer outlets, so more customers are apt to show up for a product launch. But even Apple has moving away from forcing customers to wait in line for new gear. With the Apple Watch, customers are being pushed to selecting them online, or via appointment at an Apple Store. But stocks are expected to be real low when it goes on sale, and the purchase process, with so many combinations of bracelets, is far more exacting.

What’s more, Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts is reportedly telling Apple Store employees to direct customers to place their orders for new gear online rather than wait on a long line. So it’s possible people will no longer be hanging out for days outside an Apple Store to be first in line, but it was fun while it lasted.

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One Response to “The Shoe on the Other Foot Report”

  1. Tom Swift says:

    Great column!

    I think, though, that you are too charitable towards Samsung! We should be rubbing their noses in this BIG TIME!

    Ever since seeing that 136-page engineering document where they blatantly copied Apple’s iPhone and iPads, we no longer buy any of their products.

    To have them mock Apple over Bendgate and now experience Bendgate 2 or rather Bend-Shattergate, is a just comeuppance!

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