My iPhone Endures
Don Scansen posted on September 04, 2012 |

Photo credit:  Don Scansen
The rumors of a September 12 Apple announcement were confirmed yesterday as media invitations were sent out barely one week in advance. The likelihood that this event will feature the unveiling of a new iPhone also increased as the not-quite-cryptic graphic of the calendar displayed a "5" as the shadow of the 12th. It seems the only remaining question is whether my current iPhone will last until the new hardware is available.

But getting back to "glass half full" mode for just a second, I should say that we are fortunate in Canada that our cellular providers offer nothing less than three year contract terms in exchange for a hardware discount. Why fortunate? It gives incentive for a few cheapskates like me to try to push their hardware to fulfill the term. For the typical cell phone, it's a stretch. They are designed to be used, abused, and replaced. Phones are notoriously easy to break. The long contract is a good excuse for some real world reliability testing.

To be fair to the hardware manufacturers, a cell phone is an extremely complex system. Today's smart phones have computing power that would make the workhorse desktop and laptop computers of only a few years ago blush. On the component side, integrated circuit manufacturing know-how has allowed reliability to stay ahead of technological complexity. But there is a lot that can go wrong in a smart phone beyond the components. It takes a lot of assembly of electrical and mechanical components to create the finished product. Thermal extremes and repeated cycling of mechanical joints, connectors and switches in some fairly harsh environments all take a toll. And that's for phones that don't get dropped into the toilet.

I have an iPhone 3GS that has been with me since October of 2009 (after a shipping and fulfilment glitch with one of our infamous Canadian cellular providers). With the new iPhone expected now in September, I have been pushing the old girl very hard to keep her in service.

They say the legs are the first to go. For our smart phones and tablets, it's the battery. My once proud iPhone could give me pretty reliable service for a couple of days in moderate use. Now even very sparse use will not get me through a 24 hour period between charging cycles. Like a good massage therapist, more attention to battery conditioning might have extended the life of my Li-Po pack. But we expect a lot of our constant companions, and rare is the smart phone user who will make much of an effort to keep the battery in top shape.

The ubiquitous touch screen is something most of us just can't do without. If the touchscreen or controller start to act up, though, all bets are off. A few weeks ago, I started to think that the controller was on the fritz because I had to try several times to "catch" the slider to unlock the home screen among other operational glitches. That's one for RIM's "pro" column and its BlackBerry's physical keyboard I suppose. In the end, there was a spurious conductive path around the back of my phone thanks to some dry milk residue left behind after the liquid had seeped between the case and the back of the iPhone thanks to one curious toddler. It seems this is one of the dangers of the intuitive touch interface. It is a magnet for even small children who are immediately drawn to its interactive modes.

It is not the reliability of the hardware as much as the perhaps undue expectations placed on the old hardware to keep the latest iOS running. In the end the hardware manufacturers and cell phone service providers will be the winners. After all, if the abuse doesn't kill the phone, new software will.

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