The Mysterious Curse of iphone 6, Lifted With...The Headphone Jack

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In 2014, Apple unveiled a pair of larger iPhone 6 models that kicked off a "supercycle" of upgrades and permanently blunted the high-end Galaxy sales of its top rival in premium smartphones, Samsung. However, it appears that iPhone 6 and 6S suffered statically high hardware failure rates in diagnostic testing, a problem that has since subsided in more recent models. What caused this mysterious problem, and how did Apple improve things?

 

Was it the 1.0 model syndrome?

There's a legend among Apple punditry that gravely warns against ever buying the first model year of a new Apple product. This logic is grounded in the obvious reality that brand new products (like the original iPad in 2010) are often working out initial design issues and will almost certainly be dramatically improved in the next model or two, both in improved hardware and in software updates. 

That logic wasn't applied to iPhone 6 however. It was a brand new design on many levels, from its entirely new case construction to quite radical changes in software to support iOS apps running at multiple, new resolutions. The "supercycle" of buyers who boosted iPhone 6 sales far above previous seasonal iPhone records didn't express concerns about the models being essentially a new product category. They also reported satisfaction rates after the sale that were spectacularly high.

Over the next couple years after its release, however, trends in diagnostic data reported by Blancco Technology Group have highlighted that device failures among Android phones appeared to be improving while iPhones were not. 

Was Apple suffering from a meltdown in quality control and software stability in its new generation of larger iPhones? Looking at just a single quarter of statistics, it might appear so. However, when comparing years' worth of data, a new and more complex, nuanced picture emerges. 

Apple a victim of its success

Apple wasn't the only company showing up near the top of the firm's diagnostic failures. Samsung was also experiencing high failure rates, generally much higher than Apple's. Part of this was related to how the diagnostic firm reported failures. Blancco's definition of failure was a device failing one of its tests in a way that couldn't be resolved. 

The data it reported varies considerably in different markets and over time. Why were iPhones failing more in North America and Asia, and then later in Europe? It turns out that popularity plays an important role. The more phones a company sells, the more opportunity there will be for a user to experience a problem with one of them. 

Early adopters of iPhone 6 in North America and Asia experienced the first wave of issues, while users in Europe caught a second, later wave that appears to be related to the fact that customers there tend to hold on to their devices longer. 

That also explains why Samsung and Apple were near the top even as low budget, poor quality phones from vendors such as LeEco, Lenovo and other Chinese brands were turning up less often. Those vendors were making lots of phones in China, but were not represented in other markets, and so were not triggering as many statistical failures, even though they were still failing frequently in the markets where they were being sold.

iPhone 6 massively expanded Apple's sales and, subsequently, its installed base of users. The company's subsequent generations of new models didn't as dramatically exceed the high bar set by iPhone 6 in new "supercycles," but also didn't ever fall back down to iPhone 5s levels. 

Despite this huge new pipeline of iPhone volume that has continued since the debut of iPhone 6, Apple's device failure rate has since begun to improve significantly. What changed to counteract Apple's new peak in volume? A better design. 

Apple giveth, Apple taketh away

The most obvious example of qualitative improvements that springs to mind might be the hardened structure Apple introduced with iPhone 6s after the contrived BendGate media narrative. However, Blancco's data doesn't suggest that case bending was ever an actual issue to statistically emerge among its users. 

Many of the diagnostic failures that were actually reported are instead tied to things such as temperature, WiFi reception, mobile data and Bluetooth. Those are all features that have generally improved over time as Apple has focused on making its custom A-series chips not just faster, but more efficient, and as it sources the best possible wireless chips (and as wireless standards and their implementation by carriers and peripheral devices improve).

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