The Color of Money / Home & Consumer

Color of Money: A slip that gets you a wrong number

WASHINGTON -- I've long felt that too many people have become too attached to their smartphones.

But not only do people have an unhealthy and often annoying attachment to these devices, they are spending billions (yes billions with a b) to repair broken phones so they can continue their addictions to talking, tweeting, texting, downloading stuff from the Internet and playing games.

Consumers have spent $5.9 billion to repair, replace or pay insurance deductibles for damaged iPhones since they went on sale in 2007, according to SquareTrade, a leading consumer electronics protection plan provider. In just the last year, 30 percent of users have damaged their device. The San Francisco-based company surveyed more than 2,000 iPhone users.

"We were shocked at the numbers," said SquareTrade's chief marketing officer Ty Shay.

And get this. Of all the people who were surveyed, 9 percent damaged their phone by dropping it in the toilet. I have to ask: Really, the toilet? Then again, how many times have you been in a public restroom and heard someone talking on a cellphone? Some conversations can wait. In many cases, Shay said, the phone fell out of a pocket or clip-on.

Five percent of users have accidentally put their phone in the washing machine. The liquids most commonly spilled on phones: water (43 percent), soda (19 percent), beer and wine (12 percent) and coffee and tea (12 percent). The most frequent way people damage their phone is to drop it.

Shay said people often resign themselves to keep a damaged device because it costs so much to replace an iPhone if they aren't eligible for special price breaks when they sign up for a long-term contract with a carrier. Eleven percent of iPhone owners keep using the phone with a cracked screen, while 6 percent have taped up their phone. My husband has cracked his iPhone screen twice. The survey found that 17 percent of iPhone users have damaged their device more than once.

It's no surprise that the survey found that young iPhone users are more likely to have accidents with their phones. One in two iPhone owners under 35 has damaged a phone. I certainly can attest to this statistic. My husband and I finally agreed to allow our 14-year-old son to have a cellphone. He rides a bus in the afternoon, and it's a convenient way to keep track of his arrival to the drop off location. And notice I didn't say he "needed" a phone.

At any rate, we gave our son my husband's 3G iPhone after he traded up to the 4S version. My son, bless his heart, had it for just a couple of months. It's now broken and can't be fixed.

It seems he had the phone in the bathroom watching something on the Internet. He set it on the sink to take a shower, he said. It would appear the steam from the shower caused water damage to the phone. At least that's what the Apple store employee guessed when I took the phone in to see if it could be repaired. My son did not get a replacement iPhone. We bought him a low-cost Android smartphone.


Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group


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