Bendgate: The iPhone 6 Bending Scandal and the Science Behind It
You might think Apple’s iPhone bending woes do not deserve a space on a tech blog but there’s also a science and technology aspect in it worth covering. The materials and design used for the bodies of the incredibly thin iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are a factor. Likewise, it is justified discussing how companies should put greater priority on the durability of the devices they manufacture instead of focusing on aesthetics and achieving unnecessary thinness.
“Bendgate,” as it has been referred to in the media, is one big thorn on Apple’s reputation. It has damaged the otherwise rosy introduction of the upsized new iPhones. Apple stocks rose after the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 announcements and there have been reports that pre-orders for the iPhone 6 have been the highest for any Apple product. However, the rosy picture was easily skewed as the Bendgate issue emerged.
Easy to Bend?
Are the new iPhones really easy to bend? As demonstrated in one YouTube video, the safer assumption is that the new iPhones are easier to bend compared to other smartphones with polycarbonate bodies. The iPhone bending issue is mostly blown out of proportion. Consumer Reports did their own study on the subject and concluded that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are not really as bendy as believed or as what Apple’s detractors would want people to believe.
Consumer Report’s stress test was supposed to be “scientific.” Well, it’s “scientific” according to their own claim but it’s difficult to disregard the fact that Consumer Reports is a respected name when it comes to consumer advocacy. Also, it can be recalled that Consumer Reports did a similar test (and verified the problem) on older iPhones when they were reported to be suffering from signal loss when held at certain positions.
The test was dubbed as a “three-point flexural test” wherein the device to be tested is supported at two points on either end and a force is applied “at a third point on the top.” The test is similar to what was done by Unbox Therapy but with the use of certain equipment. The devices tested were the two new iPhones, Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, and HTC One M8.
Bending Test Results
Consumer Reports found that of the six devices tested, the Galaxy Note 3 had the highest resistance to deformation and case detachment when exposed to stress. The Note 3 can withstand not more than 150 pounds of pressure before it gets deformed and before its case separates. The metal clad HTC One M8, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus, on the other hand, were the easiest to be deformed although based on the results, the iPhones are slightly stronger than the HTC One (which never had an issue of bending). It takes 70 and 90 pounds of force for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (respectively) to be deformed while it takes around 100 and 110 pounds of force for these devices to have their cases detached.
These results show that the iPhones are not really as easy to bend as what the viral #Bendgate makes it appear. However, it’s difficult to ignore the propositions being floated as to why the new and thin iPhones are taking a beating from the bending issue.
Problem with the Body Material?
The iPhone comes with an aluminium body. Aluminium is of course malleable so it’s only expected for it to bend with subjected to considerable stress. Apple acknowledged that there were 9 reports of iPhone 6 Plus bending but these cases were “extremely rare.” Apple claims that they undertake regular “rigorous tests throughout the entire development cycle including 3-point bending, pressure point cycling, sit, torsion, and user studies.” These are supposed to have ensured the durability of the iPhones sold. Also, in a statement, a spokesperson for Apple claimed that “iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus meet or exceed all of our high quality standards to endure everyday, real life use.”
Apple is using anodized 6000 series aluminium, most likely 6003, which has properties comparable to that of 6061. It is not the hardest aluminium alloy but it offers a good compromise on ease of machining, ease of welding, and durability. Using harder aluminium alloys like the 7075 used in the transportation industry would have made machining very difficult on a smaller device. 6063 is not a bad choice. In fact, it is one of the most commonly used aluminium alloys for small devices.
The possibility that the #Bendgate scandal miring the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launching is just an attempt to reduce the commercial success of Apple’s latest products cannot be easily disregarded. However, there is one highly plausible reason why the iPhone bending problem should not be immediately considered as a mere negative publicity initiated by the fans of smartphone brands that are competitors to the iPhone. This reason is the design of the latest iPhones, the placement and reinforcement of the volume key holes in particular.
As what can be observed in the images of the bent new iPhones, the bending point is near or in the exact location of the volume rocker. Also, most of the bending happens on the side where the volume keys are located. The hole used for the volume keys create a point of weakness that may have not been given adequate structural support. This is a design flaw but since not many of the iPhones sold so far have suffered the bending problem, it could only be a flaw in some of the iPhones sold. Even phone warranty provider SquareTrade did their own tests and concluded that it’s difficult to bend the new iPhones, even by unwittingly exerting pressure on the device while it is inside the front or back pocket.
Whether the Bendgate “scandal” is justified or not, there’s one thing that is always important to stress. Build quality should not be compromised for the sake of aesthetics and slimness. Especially for tech products that are expensive as the iPhones, it is very important to put greater priority on durability and reliability.