Saturday, June 2, 2018 [Tweets] [Favorites]

iPhone 6 Bendgate and Touch Disease

Jason Koebler (tweet, ArsTechnica, Hacker News, MacRumors, 9to5Mac):

The company found that the iPhone 6 is 3.3 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.2 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s, according to the documents. Koh wrote that “one of the major concerns Apple identified prior to launching the iPhones was that they were ‘likely to bend more easily when compared to previous generations.’”

[…]

Despite these findings, Apple publicly maintained that there were no engineering issues with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, but an internal review showed that engineering changes were necessary to prevent touch disease, according to court filings. In May 2016, a year-and-a-half after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were released, Apple quietly began reinforcing the part of the logic board associated with touch disease, Koh wrote.

[…]

Soon after the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were released in September 2014, several customers said that their phones bent easily. Those cases went viral, which caused Apple to release a statement that said the phones were structurally sound: Apple “perform[s] rigorous tests throughout the entire development cycle including 3-point bending, pressure point cycling, sit, torsion, and user studies. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus meet or exceed all of our high quality standards to endure everyday, real life use.”

That news cycle died, and “Bendgate” went away for a while. But in early 2016, many iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices began to exhibit symptoms of “touch disease.”

This is how today’s Apple handles hardware design defects, from bending phones to batteries, desktop and laptop keyboards, and 2013 Mac Pro thermal failures. You might expect, based on the company’s reputation and how it presents itself, that it would get out in front of these stories and recall the faulty products or offer free replacements. Instead, it pretends that the problems don’t exist, keeps selling the products (sometimes quietly revising them), and makes customers pay for the repairs.

See also: The Talk Show.

Previously: Just Avoid Sitting in That Way, iPhone 6 Plus “Touch Disease”, iPhone Bend Testing.

9 Comments

> You might expect, based on the company’s reputation and how it presents itself, that it
> would get out in front of these stories and recall the faulty products or offer free
> replacements. Instead, it pretends that the problems don’t exist, keeps selling the
> products (sometimes quietly revising them), and makes customers pay for the repairs.

It's funny how this is the same strategy Trump employs: never apologize, pretend that there is no problem, that the actual problem is bad reporting of issues that don't really exist, and wait for people to focus on something else. I think the reason this works for both Trump and Apple is that both have a large following of very determined fans, as well as actual reporters and publications clearly biased in their favor, who will believe the stories put out by Trump/Apple, amplify them, attack people who report about the original stories, and in general create a lot of confusion, to the point where people end up being unsure about what exactly is going on.

This is probably a much more effective way of handling an issue than just admiting that it is real, apologizing, and fixing it, because when you admit that a problem is real, people will remember that the problem existed, whereas if you just create uncertainty and doubt and confusion, people won't be sure what exactly was going on, and might end up giving you the benefit of the doubt. It's also a strategy that keeps getting easier, because as it is being used, people lose trust in real news publications, and are more susceptible to believing the counterstory.

Chris Snazell

Apple has for a while now allowed the design of a product to override "engineering" sense and then try to fix issues in marketing.

When the iPhone 4 launched a colleague who used to design radar systems immediately noticed the antenna design issues when he handled the phone. With the 6 & especially the 6 Plus it was pretty clear to anyone with a background in mechanical engineering that the thinness of the phones was going to be a problem given their size & their monocoque design.

As @Lukas points out it's practically impossible to have a rational discussion about these issues because the Apple world is very much a counter-enlightenment sphere where facts, knowledge and expertise are less important than devotion to Apple. From a UK-perspective it's Brexit but with more stylish demagogues.

I read some comment threads on other news sites covering this revelation. There's still a healthy dose of "It's not a problem because A, B, and C so Apple is still not to blame". I think Apple and it's legion of single brand consumers have become incredibly thin skinned. Own up and move on. Not a big deal really.

It's never the initial problem that causes the scandal, it's the cover up.

Adrian Bengtson

As @Lukas points out it's practically impossible to have a rational discussion about these issues because the Apple world is very much a counter-enlightenment sphere where facts, knowledge and expertise are less important than devotion to Apple.

Yet here we are, having what seems to be actual rational discussions.

I think the notion that no-one inside the Apple world criticizes Apple is tiresome, just like the worn out references to cult and religion etc when it comes to Mac users. Yes, of course there are a lot of cretins spewing out stupid stuff in comments and what not, but there are also a lot of thoughtful valid criticism all over the place. Look no further than this blog, or TidBITS or Jason Snell or John Siracusa or even John Gruber (yes, even him). And I haven't even mention Marco…

I've been following this world for 30 years and I'd say the level of criticism has grown alongside Apple growth, especially in the last 5-6 years. The MBP Touch Bar with all it's faults has been a very popular subject of lately as have the non-progression of Siri. And Apples almost embarrassing recent track record of over-promise and under-deliver has not gone under the radar, to say the least.

>I've been following this world for 30 years and I'd say the level of criticism has grown alongside Apple growth, especially in the last 5-6 years.

Perhaps. I guess that's difficult to prove one way or the other. What is pretty clear, though, is that for at least some of the specific topics brought up here - the bendy iPhone 6, the bad antenna design on the iPhone 4, for example - there was a pattern where people had problems that were clearly caused by bad design, Apple denied that these problems existed, and the Apple media, and Apple's fans, amplified that denial.

Both of these go a ways back, but I don't think things have gotten much better. A little bit better, perhaps, but not much. When Apple refused to repair Linus's iMac, the general reaction was basically that it was his fault, and also, that he was probably lying about the whole thing. As a Mac user, to me, it doesn't matter if it was his fault (I'd like Apple to repair my computer even if it was my fault that it broke), and unless there's good evidence, it seems odd to just claim that he was lying. So at least to me, this feels like exactly the kind of knee-jerk "Apple can do no wrong" reaction that has become typical of Mac users, all the way back to the "beleaguered Apple" situation of the 90s.

This is a very minor example, but remember when Windows 8 came out, and all Mac websites linked to that video of somebody using it for the first time, and, not having gone through the first-run thingie where Microsoft explains the gestures, couldn't immediately figure out how to use the gestures? Fast-forward to iPhone X, where suddenly, gestures that are even more obscure than what Windows 8 did "feel like the one true way to interact with the system". Of course, it's human nature to take sides, and to have very subjective views of these things, to identify with an in-group and attack the out-group, but that doesn't make any of this good, or productive, or helpful. It merely makes it understandable.

But the worst part is that this only hurts Apple's own customers. The fact that you can't install apps outside of the App Store, that there aren't any real pro devices from Apple anymore, that there is no market for anything except manipulative loot box games on the App Store, all of this stuff... Apple would have a much harder time sticking to these choices if their own customers were less inclined to automatically and incessantly defend Apple's decisions.

I'll chime in to say I agree with Lukas. I don't think Apple's customers are being very well served by a lot of the commentary and discourse surrounding the company. This very post has a great example of it: the link to the Talk Show podcast. I was fairly curious to hear what these two influencers (is that still the right word?) had to say about what I see as a serious problem. Their discussion starts around 55 minutes in but I don't know if I'd actually recommend anyone take the time to listen except as an instance of people doing exactly what Lukas is talking about. It didn't sound like either of them had read the article beyond the headline. Their conclusion is that metal obviously bends more easily than plastic, and that this whole thing is "fine" because Apple continued selling the phone for years. They did not mention "touch disease" or seem aware of the fact that Apple was charging people to repair phones affected by this bend-related malfunction. Like, that's the whole point of the article! Apple continuing to sell the phone, which these documents show they knew had problems.. that is the bad part. Yet this podcast treats it as a vindication?

It occurs to me in reading a lot of tech industry commentary (which, honestly, I should probably stop doing as much of) that there is a decent amount of criticism of Apple's products, as Adrian describes. Is it as good, or as thorough as is could be? Probably not. But I do think that almost all of it is extremely "safe." And by safe I mean that it doesn't really hurt Apple that much, or do much to tarnish their image as a company. Siri problems, air power vaporware, the fact that the touch bar is kind of a dud, all of these things are true but also sort of harmless. No company expects everyone to love everything they do. But look at this story, wherein evidence is presented Apple is charging people for repairs to phones damaged by engineering defects. That, you know, actually sounds kinda damning of Apple itself. This level of criticism feels "unsafe" to me, along with things like the exploitative business models rewarded by the App Store, or planned obsolescence (not to mention such topics as tax evasion or how that one time they helped create a cartel to fix prices on ebooks). I'm not sure if I have a coherent thesis on all of this yet, but it feels to me like the Apple discourse strongly prefers to remain in safe areas, and it would be healthier for everyone if unsafe topics were rewarded the same credence when centered on Apple as they are when centered on other companies.

Was it really a wide-scale problem worth addresing, though? Why haven't Apple's customer satisfaction taken a hit if it's such a big problem? Isn't "3.3x more likely to bend" a useless fact without any context? Is it possible Apple fixed all these issues free of charge? Is there any evidence or statistics on the number of PAID fixes as a result of bendgate, antennagate, or keyboardgate?

@Borgon See here. There are lots of people claiming they were charged; do you think they’re lying?

[…] Previously: iPhone 6 Bendgate and Touch Disease. […]

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