iPhone owners, beware! (of iffy iPhone studies)

The real problem with iPhones are their susceptibility to failures from accidents.
  • (PC World (US online))
  • — 24 June, 2009 09:57

BREAKING NEWS: Your Apple iPhone is bound to break! At least, if you believe a new study by an electronics warranty company that, by pure coincidence, happens to be promoting an iPhone warranty plan on its home page right now. Breaking news? Broken news might be more like it, as far as I'm concerned.

The report, conducted by warranty seller SquareTrade, made its way into the blogosphere this week and has been steadily building buzz on Twitter ever since. It claims that Apple's iPhone is "prone to accidental damage," seemingly implying (though never directly asserting) that the iPhone may be more likely to break than its smartphone competitors.

Don't fall for the attention-grabbing headline, though: There's far more to this "research" than meets the eye.

When iPhones Fail

The SquareTrade study (PDF) starts, soundly enough, by comparing the iPhone 3G to the BlackBerry and the Palm Treo. The company claims that, over a 22-month period, the iPhones it tracked experienced far fewer hardware failures than the other mobile devices. Only 9.9 percent of iPhones malfunctioned during that initial two-year timeframe, SquareTrade says, while 15.3 percent of BlackBerrys and nearly 20 percent of Palm Treos had hardware issues.

That sets the stage for the remainder of the sales pitch -- er, sorry...study. Brace yourself.

When iPhone Research Fails

SquareTrade goes on to claim that "while the iPhone hardware experienced relatively few malfunctions, the real problem with iPhones [are their] susceptibility to failures from accidents." More than 20 percent of all iPhone users, the company says, experience some sort of accidental damage to their device -- leading to a "projection" of any iPhone owner having a 33 percent chance that their device will die within two years of its purchase.

Oddly, the comparisons to other devices end here; SquareTrade doesn't actually ever say how the BlackBerry or Palm Treo fared when it came to "susceptibility to failures from accidents." Sure, the iPhone is "especially susceptible to dying from drops, whether on hard surfaces or into liquids" -- but is it any more so than any other small, sleek electronic device with a glass screen? Could other phones be dropped or watered without incident?

This omission, I'm sure, has nothing with to do with the fact that the iPhone is the only smartphone prominently featured on SquareTrade's home page for warranty sales. It also, I'd imagine, has no relation to the following highly scientific conclusion of the company's "research":

"As the cost to replace iPhones is high, prospective iPhone owners should consider this potentially hidden cost before they buy, or seek other ways to alleviate the cost of replacement, such as buying an extended warranty that covers drops and water immersion."

SquareTrade, according to its home page, is the only company offering an iPhone warranty that covers handling-related accidents. You know, things like drops and water immersion.

All purely coincidental, I'm sure.

(PC World's own iPhone stress tests, by the way, have generally found the devices to be fairly tough -- even against some of the most extreme abuse.)

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

JR Raphael

PC World (US online)
Topics: Apple, iPhone 3G S, smartphones, iPhone, iphone 3g
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