It's got the bends.

Is Your IPhone Bending? Get Bigger Pants

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.
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To qualify as a hipster, you need to wear skinny jeans, own an iPhone and be an early adopter of technology. These requirements were easy to meet -- until the iPhone 6 and the scandal known as Bendgate.

The word is a popular hashtag on Twitter, where people are trading stories and pictures of new iPhones, both 6 and 6 Plus, bending in jeans pockets. At first, the devices develop a slight crease south of the volume control buttons, where the phone's body, made from a secret aluminum alloy, is thinnest. If one ignores it, the bend can become more pronounced. Try to correct it, and the screen will crack. Lewis Hilsenteger, who runs a video channel dedicated to gadgets, found his new iPhone slightly bent and decided to make things worse for the public's sake: He managed to bend the handset out of shape with his bare hands and then destroy it by straightening it out.

As I scanned all the coverage, I couldn't help being reminded of Apple Inc.'s 2010 "antennagate." The iPhone 4, it turned out soon after it was introduced, lost wireless reception when gripped a certain way. Customers and reviewers ascribed the malfunction to Apple engineers' decision to use the smartphone's metal frame as the antenna. The company did its own investigation and found a different cause: Apple had used a faulty algorithm for calculating the number of reception bars. Customers, however, still weren't happy, and Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs gave a news conference to try to mitigate the public-relations disaster.

"We are not perfect," Jobs admitted. He hated apologizing, though, and he spent much time explaining how certain grips decreased reception on competing devices such as Blackberries, HTCs and Samsungs.

The bending problem isn't limited to iPhones, either. As Buster Hein quickly pointed out on the Cult of Mac site, other phones with metal frames, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, Sony Xperia Z1, HTC Evo and even the iPhone 5, could also warp in their owners' pockets. There is a subtle difference, however: those other gadgets buckle only when you carry them in your back pocket and sit on them. For the iPhone 6, the heat and pressure in the front pocket can be enough.

So will there be an Apple apology? A Tim Cook press conference with slides of competitors' phones folding up like pieces of paper? The company hasn't commented, but then it took weeks before Apple reacted to "antennagate."

I don't think Apple is going to waste much breath apologizing. The iPhone 6 is breaking sales records: 10 million have been sold in the first weekend. It is also getting rave reviews. The bending problem is far from universal and the answer to it is, apparently, to wear slightly more generously-cut pants if you're going to carry the smartphone in your pocket, or get a sturdy case. As for sitting on one's iPhone, who said that was acceptable use?

Perhaps a change in hipster fashion should follow the introduction of the year's most-talked-about smartphone. If anyone can engineer such a shift, it's Apple.

An apology or even an offer of free cases for all wouldn't solve the real problem, though. "We're an engineering-driven company," Jobs said during "antennagate." The three features of the new iPhones that combine to make them bendable -- thinness, big screen size and light metal bodies -- are driven by marketing, not engineering.

Since the iPhone 6 is a response to competitors' products rather than a trailblazing device, it had to be as big as the flagship Android phones but thinner and lighter. It also had to be made of metal, not plastic, to give it that elusive "premium feel" that reviewers rave about. The engineers did the best they could to accommodate the marketing requirements, but there was a tradeoff. As product design engineer Jeremy Irons explained on Gizmodo, the iPhone 5S was only 7 percent thicker than the iPhone 6 Plus, but it was "22 percent stronger in bending."

The fashion-driven, marketing-driven approach produces only subtly different results for a company such as Apple, which has the pick of top engineering talent. The iPhone 6 is still a great phone. Wider pockets are a small price to pay.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net