iPhone #bendgate theater and Apple's incentive not to respond
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
There is obviously a structural flaw in the iPhone 6 Plus that Apple should be held accountable for, but there is a huge gap between confronting a company about a legitimate problem and what we've been seeing with #bendgate. Of course, I should have expected that exact reaction, because almost no one on Earth knows how to discuss Apple rationally and reasonably, and any issue with an Apple product, no matter how small, will become far bigger than it should, because irrationality breeds exaggeration (just check the comment section on any Apple-related article for evidence on that).
Let's start right at the beginning, when the rumors first started going around about the iPhone 6 Plus bending. The first whispers came from iPhone users, obviously. But, were they finding out about the problem because of normal usage? At first, yes, but quickly afterwards, not so much. The first reports came from people who had put the iPhone their front pocket only to find it bend, which is unfortunate and a real issue. But, those reports were overtaken by jokes about skinny jeans, and complaints from those who put their new iPhones in their back pocket and then sat on them. Look, I don't care if you're wearing skinny jeans or Hammer pants, and I don't care if you have an iPhone, a Galaxy Note, or a NoPhone. If you put a smartphone in your back pocket and then sit on it, any damage that occurs is your fault and yours alone. That's just a mistake waiting to happen, especially when the phone in question is large enough to be affected by the shape of your ass.
After those initial reports, the mess took an even more silly turn, and for this we have Mr. Hilsenteger to thank, because since then there have been almost no reports from actual consumers with legitimate problems. The vast majority of the "coverage" has been from people who are actively trying to bend the iPhone. The coverage has been flat out ridiculous and has turned into a mess of noise that is obscuring any possibility of getting Apple to answer the real complaints. And, that's a big problem, because there are legitimate concerns which need to be addressed.
Hiding the real problem with theater
Look, a phone bending is nothing new. The iPhone 5/5s had bending problems, so did the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Sony Xperia Z1, and the Oppo Find 5. The iPhone 6 Plus isn't the first phone to have bending problems, and it won't be the last. I mean, this isn't even the first iPhone to have bending problems, so why has the story gone viral this time around? The bending issue with the 6 Plus doesn't appear to be any more widespread than any previous issue. It doesn't appear to be that big of a deal at all, once you look past the hype. Apple has sold millions of iPhones, and it claims there have only been 9 official complaints about bending. There have undoubtedly been more than 9 people with problems, of course, but whatever the real number is doesn't much matter, because all of those real issues have been drowned out by people reveling in a flashy new flaw that they can use to justify their dislike of Apple.
There are possibly hundreds or even thousands of people out there with an iPhone 6 Plus that is bent even a little, but all you get to see are guys proving how strong their hands are.And, that's one of the biggest problems with this whole fiasco. Rather than getting word straight from users who are having the problem, we are getting inundated with hundreds of videos and thousands of reports featuring people actively bending the iPhone for nothing more than show. The few actual accidental bending issue reports come via comments on sensationalized stories (and the bending on those is almost always very slight), and the unfortunate Wired review unit that was bent to an "almost imperceptible" degree during regular use. A legitimate problem is being hidden by those who just want to make catchy theater. There are possibly hundreds or even thousands of people out there with an iPhone 6 Plus that is bent to much smaller degree than you'd see in any video of that. All you get to see are guys proving how strong their hands are.
Even the Consumer Reports investigation missed the point of this whole thing. The Consumer Reports tests were flawed, as evidenced by the fact that the iPhone 6 was found to bend easier than the 6 Plus. The trouble was that the tests only applied pressure to the middle of the iPhone 6 Plus, and found that it took about 90 pounds of pressure to bend the iPhone 6 Plus. Of course, the truth is that it doesn't take that much pressure to bend an iPhone, as long as you are pressing in the right spot. Unfortunately, even though the data was incomplete, Consumer Reports was right in saying that #bendgate is little more than hype. In reality, the whole thing is hype and almost no substance, and not because there is no substance to be had.
two idiot kids going into an Apple Store to bend a display model iPhone for themselves and get it on camera. Many in the media were outraged at what was a blatantly illegal act, but that wasn't the only problem with that video. Those two teens also highlighted the fact that the vast majority of the coverage so far has been mostly spectacle and little substance. Bending an iPhone with your bare hands won't force Apple to deal with the issue, just like taking a baseball bat to your car won't force Toyota to make a stronger windshield. Only real customers with real issues highlighting how widespread the issue is will change anything.
Facing the issue properly
There is a legitimate issue with the iPhone 6 Plus, and it is one that could affect far more people than we know about. Unfortunately, right now, Apple has far less incentive to respond than you might think. Apple was partially saved by the flawed Consumer Reports testing, which missed the real problem and then proceeded essentially to call the issue overblown. Apple has been even more disincentivized to respond beyond what it has already said, because with the rash of copycat bending videos, the actual design flaw that causes the issue has been missed by many, and the problem for Apple may be getting fixed as well.
To his credit, Lewis Hilsenteger of Unbox Therapy, after kicking off the #bendgate theater, has been trying to draw attention to the real issue, which is a structural flaw. Many have speculated (myself included) that the problem was simply that the iPhone was too thin and didn't include enough reinforcement inside. The thinness of the iPhone 6 Plus seems to be a bit of a red herring though, because the iPhone 6 is even thinner and doesn't have the same issues in the real world, despite doing worse on the Consumer Reports tests. The thinness of the device likely doesn't help the problem, but the current data is pointing to a design flaw that may be more to blame. If you notice, every iPhone that has been bent warps in the same spot, right behind the volume buttons.
Imgur user alleras4 has actually put together a pretty solid looking theory on why that spot is structurally weak, and why it was missed in the testing. To simplify, the iPhone 6 Plus doesn't have an internal chassis that reinforces the structure. The strength of the device is derived mainly from the case itself, and for the most part the case does a good job of doing just that. Unfortunately, the cutouts for the volume buttons make that portion of the case weaker, and the metal insert that Apple placed behind the volume buttons on the inside isn't strong enough to make up for that weakness, because it doesn't have enough support around it. Alleras4 summarizes the point:
This is a rational argument backed up with evidence. It may not be 100% the truth, but if you combine that with more evidence of regular users having bending issues under normal conditions, Apple would be far more likely to respond. As is, what exactly would happen if Apple did come out and give us the response that we deserve in this matter? On the public relations side of things, it would drive more traffic to the silly bending videos. And, on the business side of things, iPhone 6 Plus sales would drop based on a potential issue that is likely affecting far less than 1% of iPhone owners.
Why should Apple respond?
There are plenty of people out there who are calling for Apple to respond to this situation; and in a perfect world, Apple would respond, because there is a real problem with the iPhone 6 Plus hardware, and it's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I think the calls for an Apple response will be in vain, because from Apple's perspective, there is really no good that can come from an Apple response at this point. Consider why Apple was forced to respond to antennagate with the iPhone 4 - there was an onslaught of customer complaints about the issue. Apple had to respond, and so it did, including giving away free bumper cases in order to mitigate the issue while a proper hardware fix could be sorted out (even if it didn't fully get fixed until the iPhone 4s).
As explained above, that is not what is happening with this situation. There have been very few customer complaints about iPhone 6 Plus bending. The entire thing is far more a product of media hype than of honest complaints from real users. This is not necessarily because there aren't enough users to complain, but certainly in part because the media coverage has been so over-the-top as to drown out real customer problems. It is even possible that a user with a slightly bent iPhone isn't bothering to complain, because they see the images of truly busted iPhones and think, "Well, my issue isn't that bad." Or, people are getting that response from friends when they ask about any bending problems, and then proceeding to buy an iPhone anyway. But, maybe most likely, all of the #bendgate theater is actually pushing iPhone users to buy cases for their devices, which makes Apple even less likely to respond.
More devices using cases means fewer complaints of bending, which means less reason for Apple to say anything. Even if Apple had been swarmed by complaints, its response likely would have been the same as antennagate - apologize, offer a free case, and make a change to the design as soon as production could handle the change. Admitting the problem alone does nothing except hurt iPhone sales, but offering a free case keeps sales up and simply cuts into the profit margin a bit.
Obviously all of the hyped coverage of iPhone bending hasn't really affected sales. If it had, Apple certainly would have made a more aggressive response by now. Instead, Apple brushed it off by citing how few complaints there have been. More than likely, users are still buying the iPhone 6 Plus, and just buying a case along with it. So, by doing nothing, Apple is still getting iPhone sales, and it may be making even more money through case sales, rather than losing some money because of needing to give away those cases for free.
So, really, why should Apple bother to respond? And, remember, "because it's the right thing to do" holds little to no weight in corporate America.
I'm afraid that #bendgate going viral may have been the worst possible scenario here. Too many people got too excited about watching an iPhone fail, and getting a chance to justify their irrational hatred of Apple; and, an honest structural flaw in the iPhone 6 Plus may be lost in the shuffle. All of the videos of guys bending iPhones by hand overshadowed any real problems faced by users, and may have pushed customers to simply buy a case with their new device, rather than force Apple to do anything.
In the end, I wouldn't be surprised to find out in a few months that Apple quietly made a change to the internal design of the iPhone 6 Plus to fix the issue, and the only way that we'll learn of the change is because someone tears down an iPhone early next year. Apple has no real incentive to do anything now, because the only true incentives are damage to the Apple brand or the bank account, and neither of those appear to be too troubled.
Maybe the rabid reaction from Apple haters and sensational coverage of #bendgate has desensitized users or even blinded them to the real issue. Maybe it has pushed users to proactively address any potential issues themselves. Whatever it has done, it appears to have given Apple no good reason to respond to the problems, and that's a damn shame, because there are likely a lot of iPhone users out there who are facing real bending issues with a structurally flawed device.
reference: iPhone 6 Plus bending explained