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iPhone owners know about shattered screens as Apple explores hi-tech solutions

Simon Usborne reports on a (possible) solution

Smartphones aren't so clever when they display the resilience of an egg laid by an ostrich with a calcium deficiency.

I dropped my iPhone 4S the day after I’d signed away a significant lump of my future earnings. The screen was fine, but Apple, in their wisdom, decided to glaze the back as well as the front of my device (because the iPhone 3 wasn’t fragile enough...)

First there was crazed shatter pattern familiar to a quarter of iPhone owners (according to a recent poll). Then shards of glass started coming away in my pocket, on my desk, in my thumb, drawing blood at one point. Eventually, the glass stabilised, leaving a patch of my phone’s digital guts exposed (it looks worse than the iPhone 3). I could have got an Apple “genius” to replace the back, but I was told that would cost more than £100. I could have claimed on my network provider’s insurance, but the excess wouldn’t have been much less. My phone worked, so I did nothing, like almost a third of those survey respondents.

Perhaps aware that so many broken phones isn’t great PR, and without an app to make us less clumsy, Apple has been exploring hi-tech solutions. A patent it filed in 2011 has emerged outlining a “Protective Mechanism for an Electronic Device”. It would sense a state of freefall and use a mechanism to shift the device’s centre of gravity so that it might land on its edge rather than face, like a diver straightening his body before hitting the water.

Sounds great, but the feature hasn’t left the diagram stage yet, leaving those of us reluctant to invest in ugly rubber sheathing to take the DIY approach. The internet is awash with repair kits that come with the requisite microscopic tools.But do so at your peril. Stories abound of botched operations. Olivia Solon, the associate editor of Wired.co.uk, dropped her phone while riding her bike. She paid about £20 for a new, unofficial screen via Amazon. An hour and a quarter and several heart-in-mouth moments later, she thought she’d fixed it. “Even the light sensor that turns off the screen when you hold the phone to your ear worked,” she says. But not long after boasting about her triumph over fragility, Solon went back into her phone to look at the battery, which appeared to be draining too quickly. She yanked off a crucial connector and the phone died. At the time of going to press she was waiting for news from her boyfriend, who’s handy with a soldering iron. In the meantime she joins the long list of iPhowners who wish Apple would get on and recognise the fact that, occasionally, people drop stuff.