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Are smartphones made fragile on purpose?

The mobile phone conspiracy theorists’ strongest point examined and understood by Rajiv Makhni

brunch Updated: Feb 11, 2017 20:56 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Smartphones

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than to see people using phones with cracked screens

I’m not trying to add new ammunition to mobile phone conspiracy theorists. It’s just a fact and a sad one at that. The only thing in the world that is with you 24 hours a day, held in your hand all the time, subjected to all kinds of hardships and dangers, is also manufactured to be delicate and not durable! Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that ridiculous? It’s almost funny, except the joke is on you!

The problem is us

Despite phones being delicate, easy to break and simply not equipped to withstand the usage patterns for which they were made, we still buy them in droves. Despite having broken our phone screen a dozen times, we still line up to buy the next version. Despite having a phone that’s dead due to one drop of water, we still try to get ‘that’ same phone online. We give the mobile phone industry the business without demanding the standards they should be giving us. If the car industry was like the mobile phone industry, we would still have cars that would have zero safety and durability standards. If the aviation industry was like this, we would have planes crashing or never even taking off. The automobile and aviation industry woke up to protect its customers. It’s time the mobile phone industry did that too.

Heavy protective cases look ugly and the concept of a slim phone is wasted

Funny business

The phone business is an interesting one. A new phone is announced, the company and media go gaga over the new materials used to produce such a slim and shiny phone, (they wax eloquent on the display). People spend a lot to buy the phone and then immediately shove it into a thick solid protective case and a screen protector to coat that wiz bang display. The irony is palpable here. That incredible premium new material slim phone has just been covered with plain old ugly plastic and rubber!

The protective case industry is one of the biggest businesses in the accessory world

Self-serving ecosystem

It’s not as if the technology isn’t there to make phones tougher. It’s just that we, the consumers, are letting the mobile industry get away with murder (of our phones and money) and aren’t punishing them for making ‘fragile’ a feature. There is also a selfish interest here. The protective case industry is one of the biggest businesses in the accessory world, ditto for screen protectors. A fragile phone will eventually be replaced quickly, thus adding more sales for phone brands.

The display

Rugged phones have existed forever but they are bulky and thick. But the technology that can make even a slim phone super tough is available. The first rule is that every phone should come with a screen that is virtually unbreakable. Corning Gorilla Glass 5 should be the de facto standard. I’ve seen Gorilla Glass phones drop from four to five feet, land flat on the screen and not have a scratch!

Gorilla Glass phones can survive most falls

Proof it!

Every phone needs to be water, dust and sweat proof. Not resistant! Proof! This is becoming a big scam whereby companies come up with their own terminology to proclaim that their phone is as tough as nails. There is an industry standard certification, let’s stick to it. The Ingress Protection (IP) rating of a device tells you how it will perform in dirt, dust and water. Ratings range from 1 to 6 for dust and dirt and 1 to 8 for water. Thus, a IP68 means it’s almost indestructible. Make IP ratings compulsory for all devices and stop companies from coming up with their own bombastic jargon.

Material benefits

Let’s actually use new age materials rather than just doing a new paint job on a phone. There are self-healing materials now that repair scratches and dents. And while we are at it, put some shock-resistant technology within so that all the amazing tech inside is also protected. Making a phone tough and yet keeping it stunning is absolutely doable. Companies need to invest more. We want phones that will last longer and not just until a new version is released!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, February 12

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