Klutz factor fuels growth of phone screen repair services

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Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013 12:00 am

Some people drop them. Others leave their mobile phone on the roof of the car and drive off. Or they slip the device into a purse or pocket — and miss.

Whatever the cause, smartphones with cracked screens seem to be nearly as common as cellphones themselves. The phenomenon — particularly frequent among the glass-cased iPhones — has prompted repair services to mushroom at mall kiosks, computer shops and college campuses.

Over the course of a year, nearly a third of iPhone users damaged their device, according to the results of a survey made public last September by SquareTrade, which sells protection plans for electronics. Owners spent $6 billion in the previous six years to repair or replace phones that had been cracked, dropped, kicked, waterlogged or otherwise damaged.

It’s not just the iPhone. Consumers have spent well over $7 billion on damaged Android phones since 2007, SquareTrade said in April.

“It’s not a malfunction. It’s not the product’s fault. It’s the klutz in us,” said Jessica Hoffman, a spokeswoman for SquareTrade, which she said covers accidental or lifestyle damage, such as “my son threw it in the bathtub” or “my pet tripped over the power cord.”

At some shops, screen repairs on certain iPhone models start at $70, a cheaper alternative than buying a new one, which can cost $400 or more.

Apple discourages consumers from going anywhere other than an Apple store or Apple-authorized center, to avoid voiding warranties. New iPhones come with a one-year warranty that covers two incidents of accidental damage, for a $49 fee each time. Consumers can pay $99 to extend that warranty for an additional year, again to cover two accidents for a $49 fee each time. Once warranties expire, repairs to damaged screens run from $149 to $299, depending on the model.

In March, iFix2Go set up a kiosk in a corridor at Towson (Md.) Town Center mall, where technician Kendal Robinson fixes some of the more than 100 phones and tablets that come in for screen repair each month.

“There’s high demand because a lot of people are ineligible for an upgrade (of the phone), and they don’t want to pay the substantial fee for a new device,” Robinson said. “This is an option to get it repaired and reuse the same device.”

Consumers who drop off an iPhone 4 at the iFix2Go kiosk can expect to pay $100 for a new screen and get the phone back in an hour or less. A screen on an iPhone 3G costs $50.

A subsidiary of GreenLoop IT Inc., a technology company with businesses that extend the life of IT equipment, iFix2Go repairs iPhones, iPads and iPods in one hour or less. The kiosks have been opening in shopping malls, train stations and business conference centers. The company said its seven kiosks in four states repair more than 1,000 devices a day.

Robinson said he has seen it all, including the customer who left an iPad on top of her car, then ran over it.

In a case like that, he said, “it’s fixable but not guaranteed to be fixed.”

Even when a cellphone is cracked but in working order, “it can be complicated,” Robinson said. “It is time-consuming. You have to tear down the phone, meaning take off all the parts that make the phone work.”

That was the market Harrison Baum, 22, went after when he started onCampus Repairs at the University of Maryland-College Park more than a year ago.

“When I got to college, I saw cracked phones everywhere,” he said. He bought damaged phones on Craigslist to hone his technique.

“Every other person had a cracked screen. I kept fixing them, and more and more people kept breaking them and coming to me.”

He now fixes 50 to 70 a month, catering not only to students but also to faculty.

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