Bendgate is one of a number of issues that has struck Apple in the last few weeks. The apparent fragility of iPhone 6+ is coming on top of the hacking of iCloud and the problems with iOS 8 updates that are causing headaches for many users. While iCloud security will be fixed and a software update will be hurriedly released in a few days to fix iOS 8, solving the bending iPhone 6+ is potentially a much bigger issue. The problem has arisen because Apple has pared down the depth of the device to a minimum. From the tear downs it looks like the back and sides of the device are machined aluminium alloy. Apple claims the material has been in some way strengthened. The feel of the device in the hand, with its radius-edged screen and back is good. The problem comes when excess pressure is applied on the large surface area of the front or back of the device. It’s enough to overwhelm the slender frame causing it to fold along the weakest point – just below the volume buttons.
Before ‘bendgate’ came to light I compared the Huawei Mate 7 with the iPhone 6+. See the picture below. The two devices are almost identically sized – despite the Mate 7 sporting a 6″ display to the iPhone 6+’s 5.5″; Huawei has minimized the bezel on the Mate 7 to maximize the percentage of the device surface area made up by the display.
At launch, Huawei emphasized the fact that the Mate 7’s chassis is CNC machined from a solid block of aluminium alloy. At the time I thought this seemed like needlessly expensive over-engineering. Now it seems brilliantly sensible. I haven’t tried forcing it, but the Mate 7 is very solid and shows no hint of flex. Without dismantling it I can’t be certain, but I believe the Mate 7 chassis is an ‘I’ beam in cross section, whereas the iPhone 6 is shaped more like a tray. The ‘I’ beam will have more torsional rigidity for the same amount of material as the tray. However Huawei has also kept slightly deeper sides compared to the iPhone 6 and 6+. This means the Mate 7 is not quite so nice to hold, but it’s likely a lot more resilient.
Apple has defended its product saying there’s nothing wrong with its strength. Time will tell; so far only a handful of customers have formally complained to Apple – allegedly. Given how tight the tolerances are in the product’s design, there’s likely little Apple can do to strengthen the product. It could alter the machining specification to leave a few microns more material, but a radical redesign, such as including diagonal spars, would be impossible at this stage. You can bet however that Apple’s designers are already tweaking the design the 6+’s successor product to make it just a bit more robust.
Ultimately will this issue dampen iPhone 6 sales? I doubt it very much.