I’ve been using iPhones for six-plus years. I've never protected them with strongman cases. I've dropped them many, many times. And I'd never broken my screen…until last weekend.
Now I harbor serious doubts about my longstanding intention to buy another iPhone next month. My broken screen was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The phone slipped from my hand flat onto the sidewalk. When I picked it up, the screen was completely Humpty Dumpty. I have a basic case that’s supposed to protect the screen from shattering. It didn’t work. I was in shock, if only because this had never happened before.
Until yesterday, I considered all the people who break their phone screens to be tech-abusive rapscallions, running wild across urban jungles, tossing their devices around willy-nilly during and after happy hour. “Oh, you smashed your unprotected phone on the cobblestones and stomped on it with your steel-tipped boots again?,” I would think to myself. “Boo-hoo.” I’d dropped my phone plenty of times in a variety of ways and nothing had ever broken. They must have been doing something irresponsibly wrong.
I had also assumed that I would get another iPhone – whether the one due to be unveiled in a few weeks, or the iPhone 6, at a lower price, after the new one comes out. Now I'm on the fence.
I’ve been an Apple customer since the 90s, so I have been loyal to its products through good times and bad. They’re sleek, they’re cool, the operating systems are intuitive. But, in my experience, Apple gadgets have become less and less durable lately. The first iPod I ever bought still works. The same is true of my first MacBook Pro. Every device I've purchased after those has failed: batteries dead, internal malfunctions, they couldn’t deal with temperatures in winter or summer, or they just stopped working altogether for no discernible reason after a year or two, max.
That’s partly why I was still using a 4S – yes, I know, ratchet – and why I hang onto all of my Apple products as long as possible. Even though the inner technology becomes obsolete, I expect the newer versions to be much more fragile and die much more quickly. This is the nature of technology, I know, but I’ve been clinging to the Luddite belief that I can drop a few hundred or thousand dollars on a “new and improved” device and have it not only function, but function well, for a few years.
Another issue with the iPhone is, they are getting bigger. My hand-span is about 7.75”. The iPhone 4S that I currently use has a width of just 2.31”. Add another small fraction of an inch for the case, and I find that it’s just the right size for my hand. The iPhone 6 adds another quarter of an inch, which may not seem like much, but to my hand it’s infinity. I’d have to use both hands to comfortably scroll and type, or else I’d be constantly straining, not to mention dropping it.
Thirdly, even after years of using the iPhone – and despite what everyone told me when I was still clinging to my Blackberry in 2008 – I have not gotten used to the keyboard. I hate it. It’s frustrating to type on, its auto-correct is absurd, and it is far too easy to click on things you don’t mean to click on. Think about how much time you waste in a year undoing the way your iPhone has made you sound like an incoherent toddler in a text message, or fixing errors it has caused. I can’t understand why Apple hasn’t made this very basic function any better.
And lastly, back to the screen. Using so-called “gorilla glass” hasn’t protected iPhone screens from shattering. I just had good luck that my 4S lasted so long. The alternative, “unbreakable” sapphire screens, didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons. So why should I think the next iteration will be any better, damage-control wise?
In researching my assumptions about the reduced durability of iPhones, I found some evidence that I'm completely right – and that I'm completely wrong.
On one hand, data provided to Fusion on Tuesday by the site VoucherCodesPro.co.uk showed nearly two-thirds(!!!) of smartphone users have broken their screens. Of those, Apple phones were the most often damaged, at 43%. The most common broken iPhone screen was the 6 model, at 29%. And the most common cause of breakage was dropping the phone, at 29%. These data, which came from a recent poll of 2,138 smartphone users in the U.K., are not scientific and may reflect the popularity of phone providers and models as much as they do the frequency with which phones break.
On the other hand, a study last year showed that iPhone 6 and 6S models were more durable than earlier models or rival phones. And Consumer Reports found that the latest iPhone models were not as "bendable" as users claimed they were.
So is it all in my head or is it real? Are devices actually getting better, but I've got a bad case of iNostalgia? Perhaps. But then I came across a fourth study showing that Apple customers are "blindly loyal" to Apple products, and started to question whether I should be, too.
Contrary to a rumor earlier this year that made me absolutely giddy, the next iPhone isn’t expected to get any smaller. That means Apple is catering to those who want smartphones to be more like tablets. There are benefits to that: we all do a lot of reading and office work directly on our phones, and it’s easier to do that on a bigger screen. But it leaves few good options for those of us who have small hands, good eyes and a desire to upgrade to a small phone that simply works better.
Do I go back to a flip phone or a Blackberry like a mobile cave woman? Do I – egads – convert to Android? Do I buy an iPhone and encase it in an ugly contraption named after aquatic mammals? Do I resign myself to hating the experience of using a device that’s practically attached to my hand all day long? Do I actually attach it to my hand so I don’t drop it again?
Now that my beloved iPhone 4S’s screen is slicing my thumbs apart, I need to figure out what to do, ASAP. So, by the end of today, I’ll either spend some money to repair the broken screen, hoping next month yields a better option, or I’ll say goodbye to the iPhone. At least for now.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a new poll on screen breakage.
I oversee Fusion's money section and have spent most of my time as a journalist writing about banks and finance. I live in Brooklyn with my partner Geoffrey & our two dogs, Captain & Tallulah. Favs: leopard print, Diet Coke, gummy candy, Ireland.