Americans break two smartphone screens each second, costing $3.4 billion a year, report says

An Apple iPhone with a cracked screen after a drop test at the offices of SquareTrade in San Francisco.
An Apple iPhone with a cracked screen after a drop test at the offices of SquareTrade in San Francisco. AP

By the time you read to the end of this sentence, at least a handful of Americans will have broken their smartphone screens. And by the end of the story, dozens or maybe even hundreds more will be cursing their luck over newly-cracked screens.

Two smartphone screens break each second across the United States, adding up to 5,761 busted screens an hour, according to a report released this week by SquareTrade, a phone-protection plan-provider owned by the insurance company Allstate. Over the course of a year, Americans crack more than 50 million phone screens, the report said.

It’s not a trivial problem: Putting in new screens costs consumers $3.4 billion each year, SquareTrade said in the report. That’s more than the gross domestic product of South Sudan (which is $2.87 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund.)

But 38 percent of smartphone owners with broken screens don’t bother to replace them at all — and even more smartphone owners, 65 percent, said they have put off fixing a problem with their phone because it’s too expensive.

“When people spend $1,000 on a cellphone, they don’t expect it to crack the first time they drop it on the floor,” said Francisco Jeronimo, senior research director for European mobile devices at IDC, a research firm that found that drops are the leading cause of phone damage, CNBC reported.

IDC estimated that drops damaged 95 million smartphones a year, which is about $29.8 billion in electronic devices, according to CNBC.

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The report found that two-thirds of smartphone owners had damaged their costly electronic devices in the previous year, usually cracking their screens. Other common phone woes that owners reported: chipped corners and sides, temperamental touchscreens, scratches and batteries on the fritz, according to the report. SquareTrade said in a news release that its data came from 2017 and 2018 online surveys of thousands of consumers.

How are people busting their devices?

Most Americans — 74 percent — cause the damage when their phone falls to the ground, the report said. Falling from a pocket caused 49 percent of the damage, while being dropped in water led to 39 percent of damage. And the ultimate humiliation — dropping a phone in a toilet — was to blame in 26 percent of situations, according to SquareTrade.

A phone case alone can’t save your phone from peril. Of the Americans who damaged their phones in the last year, 27 percent said the device was in a case during the accident, according to the report.

Of course, it’s possible that phone makers like Apple and Samsung keep designing less-than-indestructible devices for selfish reasons.

USA Today’s Jefferson Graham wrote earlier this month that “clearly, Apple doesn’t want to make devices with unbreakable screens, or it would. Consider this: What’s a good motivator for people to upgrade to new phones? Something is wrong with the current model, as in, a cracked screen. Fix the glass issue, and Apple won’t sell as many new ones.”

But more durable devices may be on the way.

Samsung recently designed an “unbreakable” phone screen that flexes instead of cracking when dropped, Slate reports. The Korean phone-maker boasts that in tests the phone’s display survived unscathed after 26 drops from a height of four feet.

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