by Tom Kaneshige

5 Strange Ways iPhones Die: Insurer Hears it All

Sep 10, 2010
Consumer ElectronicsCybercrimeiPhone

What do toilets, beer and elevators have in common? They all send many iPhones to their death, says consumer electronics insurer Worth Ave. Group, which shared some unfortunate tales of iPhone disaster.

iPhones meet their doom everywhere—on tabletops, in the bathroom, and even in elevator shafts. People are using iPhones (and iPads) more than ever. Apps are becoming part of the fabric of our daily lives. Location-based apps are merely the latest rage.

It’s no wonder that iPhone accidents and disasters are on the rise, too. Like a car, the more you drive it, the more likely you’ll get into a wreck. The more places you go, the greater the odds that your car will be stolen.

Lately, Aaron Cooper, marketing director at Worth Ave. Group, a company that insures consumer electronics against accidental damage, theft, vandalism, fire, flood and natural disasters, has seen some odd cases come through the door.

(Worth Ave. Group offers insurance for the iPhone at $80 a year with a $50 deductible, as well as the iPad coverage at $37 a year with a $50 deductible—iPad being cheaper because it’s used less often.)

Two-thirds of all claims fall into three categories, says Cooper: Liquid damage, cracked screens and theft. But exactly how iPhones get wet or why screens crack can be, sadly, entertaining.

Flushing the iPhone: Public enemy number one of the iPhone is water. I ruined an iPhone after accidently putting it in the washing machine. But perhaps the most odd form of liquid damage is when people drop the iPhone in the toilet.

Cooper has seen a rise in this type of claim. He figures people are using the iPhone while they’re, um, unavailable. They’re reading the newspaper or a book on the iPhone, or maybe texting. Last year, Harris Interactive (on behalf of Intel) surveyed 2,625 U.S. adults about what they consider proper smartphone etiquette during the holiday season. Three out of four respondents said it’s perfectly appropriate to use your smartphone in the bathroom.

Yet one twist on this disaster has Cooper stumped. “Women seem to be the ones dropping them in the toilet more often,” he says.

iPhone and Beer Don’t Mix: Many of Worth Ave. Group’s customers are college-aged kids, and their iPhones don’t mix well with their habits. A night of hard partying can easily lead to a missing or damaged iPhone, Cooper says.

iPhones often get stolen, he says, when someone plugs their iPhone into a stereo system at a house party. The unattended iPhone goes missing after the music stops. iPhones also get lifted at bars when the iPhone owner isn’t carefully watching it, like the iPhone 4 prototype stolen from an Apple engineer at a Silicon Valley watering hole.

And then there’s the potential for liquid damage. We’re not talking about a spilled beer, either, although that’s a risk. “I’ve had iPhones come to us in a plastic bag after someone who had too much to drink got sick on it,” Cooper says.

Call of the Wild: Many broken iPhones come to the insurer with shattered screens. One of the reasons, says Cooper, is that Apple no longer sells screen protectors. Starting with the iPhone 3GS and now the iPhone 4, Apple says that it has made the iPhone highly scratch resistant. Thus, there wasn’t a need for a screen protector, in Apple’s opinion.

But Worth Ave. Group found that a screen protector helps prevent screens from shattering. Earlier this year at MacWorld Expo, Worth Ave. Group had attendees smash iPhone screens with a hammer. Screens without a screen protector broke easily, yet the ones with a screen protector repeatedly did not break.

A screen protector could have spoiled a feline attack, says Cooper. He recalls a recent case that a customer explained, starting with an iPhone and a cat sitting peacefully on a table. The iPhone was in silent mode. When the iPhone received a message, it began vibrating. The surprised cat swatted at the iPhone, sending it across the room and shattering the screen.

Down the Elevator Shaft: The iPhone has proven to be a great travel companion. Travel apps such as FlightTrack and Kayak are some of the most popular in the App Store. It’s no wonder that people often leave iPhones inside hotel rooms, bars and restaurants.

It seems iPhones can be lost anywhere—even in hotel elevator shafts. Cooper says he’s had a few claims where iPhones slipped out of people’s hands and through the small gap between the elevator door and floor. That is, down the elevator shaft.

Perhaps people are putting their iPhones away as they get into the elevator, fearing loss of connectivity. Or maybe they don’t want to use their iPhones in enclosed places where other people are present. Whatever the reason, many people are clearly dropping their iPhones in elevators and a few fall between the cracks.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: When I realized I had ruined my own iPhone in the washing machine, I admit I couldn’t think clearly. In one fell swoop, I had lost something that I use perhaps a hundred times a day (which probably shows an unhealthy attachment to a tech gadget).

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear Cooper’s recount of a woman customer who left her iPad on the top of her car and drove off. The iPad crashed on the cement. The woman, he says, realized what had happened and quickly turned the car around to retrieve it. In her zest, she ran over the hapless iPad.

“We’re seeing more accidents, probably because people are more attached to their iPhones and iPads than ever before,” Cooper says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at