“Bend me, shape me” went the 1967 hit single from The American Breed. It wasn’t about smartphones or other electronics gear, but it was part of the ongoing joke when I recited those lyrics on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Starting with a questionable YouTube video that went viral, the stories arose that Apple’s first foray into large and very large smartphones was highly flawed. If you didn’t watch yourself, your iPhone 6 Plus might become bent may the mere act of placing it in your back pocket for a while.
I’ll have more to say about the hype and the reality, and how a certain consumer review magazine jumped in the fray to generate traffic with their own tests of specially selected smartphones. Meantime, the show this week included columnist Jonny Evans, Computerworld’s “Apple Holic,” who held forth on BendGate, reports triggered by a YouTube video claiming that the iPhone 6 Plus is prone to bending. He also talked about Apple’s failed 8.0.1 update, which was pulled shortly after being posted because it caused the new iPhones to lose a carrier connection and Touch ID support. Other topics of discussion included the media disconnect over the huge number of new features in iOS 8.
You also heard from commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, whose bill of fare included Apple’s reaction to the BendGate and iOS 8.0.1 issues, how you’re supposed to carry those larger phones, along with the failures of Apple’s preordering process. John will also discuss Apple’s purchase of the Prss magazine publishing platform for iPad, and whether it should be cross-platform. Apple Pay was also on the agenda.
The long and short of it is that the person who managed that failed iOS 8.0.1 update also reportedly was involved with the Q&A tests for Maps for iOS 6. Assuming, for the moment, that the reports are correct, I just wonder what sort of resume that person would be able to prepare if Apple decides that he needs to seek employment elsewhere.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Marc Dantonio, the chief photo and video analyst for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). Marc has been with MUFON since 1971 and has accumulated years of experience investigating UFO cases. He is also the owner of FX Models, a company that works with CGI and physical models for the entertainment industry as well as defense contractors and others. As a result of his FX work, Marc began collaborating with motion picture special effects guru Doug Trumbull (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” Blade Runner,” etc.) who has a keen interest in UFOs. Marc is working with Trumbull on UFOTOG building sensor arrays that scan the sky with a variety of gear in an attempt to properly document sighting events.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
The puns are aplenty in the wake of claims that the design of the iPhone 6, Apple’s first foray into the world of phablets, might be fatally flawed. Is it really true, as a certain YouTube video depicts, that anyone with normal strength can bend it to the point where the unit becomes unusable?
Questions, questions! But sometimes truth is not stranger than fiction. Sometimes the truth is so mundane as to consign a sensational story to irrelevance. That is surely true with the iPhone 6 Plus, despite the claims of it being unusually susceptible to damage.
There’s also a matter of having realistic expectations. Apple says that the anodized aluminum case, tempered for extra strength, is shored up with stainless steel and titanium inserts at “high stress” locations. So you expect that it should withstand normal use, but the real question is what’s normal, and what’s unrealistic? And just how are certain media outlets taking advantage of the situation?
So amid reports in 2010 that the iPhone 4 was prone to signal loss when held in a certain way, CR did a test and confirmed the symptom. They also claimed, falsely, that other smartphones did not exhibit similar symptoms, even though videos demonstrating signal loss on those other handsets were readily available, and despite the fact that manufacturers would often put warning labels on the units and/or in the product manuals about sensitive places. Still, CR would not recommend the iPhone 4 without a case to protect the critical areas. It was the year of Antennagate.
Shortly after the release of the iPad 3 or third generation model in 2012, there were reports that it was prone to overheating, or at least it ran a little too hot to the touch. Predictably, CR jumped into the fray and performed a test. Despite engaging in an operational routine not typical of the user experience, running a game at full tilt with the charger connected, the operating temperature remained within acceptable limits. Thus ended HeatGate before it ever got started.
But I did wonder if CR jumped into the fray to get attention, hoping the iPad would fail so it would generate lots of publicity, or was genuinely trying to serve the public by testing for a potential product defect. But I didn’t wonder when, two years later, CR was at it again testing three iPhone models and three other smartphones to see if they’d survive an industrial bend test. In passing, I also wondered why half the handsets tested were iPhones, but not three models from each of the other manufacturers included in this little experiment. Or were some test results left on the cutting room floor, undisclosed? I wouldn’t presume to know.
There were also press reports describing a tour of Apple’s iPhone test facility. The company quickly took control of the message, not just denying there was a serious problem, that only nine complaints had been received, but demonstrating in a very public way their rigorous testing process. Indeed, CR’s test results actually exceeded the standards for which Apple tests.
Although two other smartphones were more robust in CR’s bend tests than the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, all were regarded as acceptably durable. In passing, CR’s selection of competing products was curious. They did not, for example, select the most direct competitor to the iPhone 6, the Samsung Galaxy S5. I wonder why, and how its plastic exterior would survive severe bending.
No matter. CR got plenty of coverage, although they are not going to be able to ding the new iPhones for durability. They will, however, continue to downgrade Apple’s smartphones because Android handsets have more features, regardless of whether those features are needed or even usable. This is par for the course.
While any Apple product should be criticized if they exhibit poor performance or reliability, or the lack of critical features, I sometimes worry about CR’s agenda, and I don’t feel good about it.
On Friday, Apple’s stock price recovered most of the loss from the avalanche of bad news, which began with an iOS 8.0.1 update that killed carrier service and Touch ID on the new iPhones. I suspect some TV talking heads will still try to make hay out of BendGate, although it was conclusively shown to be a non-issue. I also suspect that the YouTube hack who posted the original clearly-doctored story will continue to bask in the glow of millions of hits and plenty of Google AdSense cash from targeted ads.
Apple should also be commended for realizing, at long last, that it’s important to get in front of bad news with honest, forthright answers, and, when necessary, apologies when things go wrong. Tim Cook surely has a better understanding than Steve Jobs, notoriously reluctant to apologize, when it comes to corporate damage control.
The reviews from Apple’s favored journalists arrived a couple of days before the first iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus reached customers. They were highly favorable, except for a curious claim by a certain blogger at The New York Times that the iPhone phablet’s battery life was subpar. Every other review I’ve read states precisely the reverse, but it’s not that I have personal experience.
But due to the kind efforts of a colleague, I have been able to spend some face time with a standard iPhone 6. A silver 64GB model, the unit was one of the first to arrive, a few days after Apple’s amazing rollout weekend that resulted in sales of 10 million. It was handed off to me as soon as it was activated.
I’ve used every single iPhone since 2007, some I even owned, and it is clear that the setup experience remains relatively easy. When I first picked up the unit, which was placed into a black rubbery bumper case with a clear background, I couldn’t help but notice just how large it seemed compared to my iPhone 5s. Based on physical measurements alone, my impression was a bit of an illusion. It’s really not that much larger, but something has to give when the display grows from four inches to 4.7 inches.
As others have commented, Apple made a huge deal over the years over the fact that you could use one hand for most iPhone functions. That concept has gone out the window with the iPhone 6, and forget about the iPhone 6 Plus. Unless you have really large hands, you won’t get the feeling that you have as much control compared to the smaller models. Forget about nonexistent concerns that these handsets will bend under normal use. You should still get a solid case to avoid dropping one, not to mention an extended warranty, such as AppleCare, or an insurance policy just in case the worst happens.
I continue to believe Apple was dragged kicking and screaming into building larger iPhones, but the public is clearly willing to live with the tradeoffs. Thus Apple took the plunge, and the results are quite encouraging.
Through most of 2013, I had been using Galaxy smartphones from Samsung, including the five-inch Galaxy S4. When I reverted to an iPhone 5s, it took a while to become accustomed to the noticeably smaller display, but I soon grew comfortable with the impressive ease of use. Clearly I expected to sacrifice something with an iPhone 6.
Based on size and carrying convenience, I honestly feel I have to be more careful about holding it. The Reachability feature, which moves the area displayed downward with a couple of fast taps on the Home button, seems a clumsy workaround. Worse, you have to get the double tapping rhythm just right for it to work. A little too fast or a little too slow and nothing happens.
For the visually challenged, there’s also a Display Zoom mode, which enlarges the contents so they are much easier to see. Compare to the way you can set different resolutions on a Mac or a PC. I do know of one person who actually considered buying a Samsung to gain from the extra screen real estate. She will definitely appreciate Apple’s efforts to make the experience more comfortable for her aging eyes.
As with the Samsung, the iPhone 6 presents a noticeably tighter fit in my left side pocket, which also carries my wallet. I briefly paired it with my Kia’s handsfree system, so I wouldn’t have to actually remove it if I got a call while on the road. In passing, I did notice that audio quality seemed a tad cleaner and more robust than the iPhone 5s.
The other advantage is the larger keyboard, making it easier to type the correct keys even before the advanced predictive features of QuickType for iOS 8 enter the picture. Fewer errors mean I can type faster and actually write longer passages on an iPhone. It doesn’t mean I will abandon my Mac as a writing tool, but it was undeniably helpful.
My exposure to the iPhone 6 also included some subjective tests of the speed potential. Apple claims the A8 processor is 25% faster at computing chores than last year’s A7. Some benchmarks show less. But it is interesting how a dual-core processor, running at less than 1.4GHz, with a “mere” 1GB of memory, manages to outdo Android gear with specs that double those figures.
While scrolling on an iPhone 5s seldom lagged, it seems demonstrably smoother on the iPhone 6. I am not a gamer, but things are clearly snappier. I also ran the 8.0.2 updater — I didn’t have the unit in hand during the brief period when iOS 8.0.1 was available — and everything continued to function without incident.
Despite sticking with an eight megapixel rear camera, snapshots taken in a dark room were clearly superior to the iPhone 5s and almost usable, as you can see here in this silly photo I took of our overgrown bichon, Teddy Bear.
In most every respect, the 2014 iPhone is an improvement over the 2013 model. For me, an iPhone 6 Plus would just be too large — the iPhone 6 just about makes it in the acceptability realm for my needs. But if you are accustomed to smaller iPhones, don’t upgrade unless you take the time to check out the look and the feel. Yes, the display has richer colors, a wider viewing angle. But the slight improvement may not account for a whole lot if it becomes inconvenient to use.
Fortunately, Apple is still offering two configurations of the iPhone 5s — 16GB and 32GB — in case you decide that big is just too big for your needs. After returning the iPhone 6, I’ll want to consider whether to take advantage of one of the carrier promotions to upgrade for little or nothing down. Size does matter, but I continue to wonder whether things are moving in the wrong direction.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis
Print This Issue