When the earphone jack on her iPhone started acting buggy, Kristile Cain took the phone in to her local Apple store.
Initially, she was told that the phone appeared to be faulty and that it would be replaced. That was until the store employee realized that the moisture indicator in the phone had been tripped. “I guess it must have been moisture from it being in the bathroom or something,” said the Chicago, Illinois, resident. “It hasn’t been dunked or anything, and it hasn’t been in water. My only guess is that when I take a shower, I always put the phone on the counter, and the steam must have caused [condensation].” In the wonderful world of smart phones, it’s easy to forget that the very things that make them such a marvel can also make them susceptible to quirks that some users have found annoying. From the iPhone’s sensitivity to water and the inability to use the touch screen while wearing gloves, to complaints about the size of BlackBerry keys and the responsiveness of its operating system, some smart phone owners are peeved by what they view as less than intelligent design.
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Daniel V. Hoffmann, an author and chief technology officer for SMobile Systems, said consumers have the perception that their smart phones will always work perfectly — a concept he finds intriguing, given that even getting a call through can sometimes be a feat. “Just by the pure portability nature, people expect [the phones] to work all the time,” said Hoffman, whose company offers security products and services for mobile phones. “The expectation for technology is very high, but it’s the implementation people need to come back down to earth with some time.” Cain is not the only one who has had her iPhone use dampened. In Houston, Texas, a pair of iPhone owners recently complained that sweat from their workouts rendered their devices useless. Once the moisture indicator — which changes color and is visible through the headphone jack — is activated, the warranty for the phone is voided, and Apple is not required to replace it. Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Jeremy Horwitz, editor in chief of iLounge, said the iPhone moisture issue dates back to similar complaints with Apple’s iPod music player. He believes that Apple must bear some responsibility, considering how it positions the phones. “Apple markets these devices as ‘take them everywhere, do everything with them, work out with them and keep them in your pocket no matter where you are’ sort of devices,” he said. “As a result of that, you do see people going and working out with applications that they download from Apple’s app store for the specific purposes of working out,” Horwitz added. “It’s not a surprise then, under circumstances like that, that people would get sweat into the iPhone.” Ventura County, California, resident Bill Kemble said he and his wife have made peace with such problems as accidentally ending a call by hitting the faceplate with an ear or earring when using a smart phone. “I’ve accepted the quirks as part of a leading-edge technology … not unlike early cell phones always dropping calls, etc.,” Kemble said. “If the same quirks were to exist three to five years down the line, I would not be so accepting of them.” Chris Reece, editor in chief of Planet-iPhones.com, said smart phones have become such a part of everyday life that people often forget the devices are sophisticated and sensitive. “Like any electronic device, it shouldn’t have moisture on it of any kind,” Reece said. Consumers must hope manufacturers will be understanding when incidents happen, he said. Larry Cooperman is director of the University of California, Irvine’s OpenCourseWare, which places educational materials and resources online for free access by the public. Cooperman, whose son broke an iPhone while riding his bike, said that the more people rely on their smart phones, the more responsibility they must take for the devices. “If you can’t come to class the next day and say, ‘my dog ate the homework,’ then you can’t come to class the next day and say, ‘my smart phone broke, and I couldn’t communicate,’ ” he said. “People are increasingly doing more and more on a phone than we ever thought they could.” Cain — who is also familiar with the lack of responsiveness of the iPhone’s touch screen to users wearing gloves, which poses a challenge during Chicago’s frigid winters — does a great deal with hers. The IT professional with the University of Chicago is waiting to see whether Apple will replace her water-damaged phone. For now, Cain, who wrote about her experience on her blog, Littletechgirl.com, must use her earphones if she wants to make calls on her iPhone. She said she believes that Apple should reconsider its placement of the moisture indicator and move it to an area of the phone that is not so accessible. “Every other phone we know they are inside the phone somewhere, behind the battery component or somewhere where accidental moisture from one raindrop is not going to get in there and set it off,” she said. “To have them right there, where water can easily get into the phone, is not smart.”