The Cracked iPhone Club: The City’s Beat-Up Cell Screens Get Chic

There's a crack for that!

All it's cracked up to be.

On a charming August night, The Observer was sitting on our fire escape with two friends, having cigarettes, having beer. We had brought out an iPhone dock, a diminutive speaker machine that plays music right from a mobile device, at a decent, but not offensive-to-the-neighbors, volume.

Then, with a jerk of an arm, there came a crash. The iPhone dock, nudged at, spun down four stories and smashed unceremoniously on the Houston Street sidewalk. Still affixed to the dock’s protruding metal slab was our iPhone. A retrieval trip downstairs found a young woman holding the mess of technology. She handed it sympathetically back to us.

We examined the damage. Not good. It had been crushed to a pulp. The frame had cracked considerably, the SIM card sputtered out like a rancid animal tongue and the once-sleek corners were marred beyond help.

But I was hardly the first victim of a battered iPhone.

Let’s play a game. Do you have a cracked one? Have you been careless enough to go caseless, a state of the phone where a single mishandling can lead to a nasty slit across your screen? Look at your phone, turn off the backlight, and rotate it slightly to catch a good reflection—maybe you haven’t even noticed, but there’s quite possibly a spindly wisp of a line running horizontally from left to right.

For the last few months, more friends and acquaintances have revealed the imperfections on their phones. They might even reveal with with pride—there’s a sort of community emerging.

We have been privy to the following conversation, with little variation, rather frequently of late.

“Oh, yours is cracked, too,” said a friend to a young lady, over dinner at a small French restaurant on Orchard Street in July.

“Yeah, it is!” she replied in solidarity.

He was getting her number when the recognition hit. They both had gashes in their glass. They took the phones out to compare and the faults nearly matched up, like two touched-together palms with lifelines of the same size.

“What happened?” said the first friend

“I dropped it,” she replied.

“Look at that,” he said.

Never fear, this is not cause for mourning, not a moment to lament these blemishes to the vaunted work of the industrial-design gods in Cupertino. The thing is: cracked iPhones are cool now! The splinters displayed as a badge of honor here in New York. You have your demolished jeans, you have your beat-up apartment in deep Bed-Stuy. Now you can have your tough-looking mobile personal communication device.

(Can iPhones come pre-cracked, to save time? Sure. Why not.)

Adjusting to the new reality, we found ourself newly in possession of a blighted device, the dark face that once sprang to life with a single click blanketed in a spider web of broken glass, chunks of the sharp stuff falling out as we turned it over in our fingers.

But you know what? It looked pretty awesome.

“I’ve noticed that some iPhone users see cracks as street cred,” a writer told me. “Like, I was balling out with my phone so hard that I dropped the thing, cracked it, and I’m STILL using it.’ A cracked iPhone is clearly superior to any other type of phone that doesn’t have a crack in it.”

We had put out a notice on Twitter—how iPhone-appropriate!—asking those who’ve carried around a shattered phone in their pocket to come clean. Some replaced them out of shame, others sucked it up.

“[I’m] on my 4th iPhone,” one said. “Parents said the cracked one(s) made me look poor.”

“Psh I’m still on smartphone I think lucky #13,” tweeted another. “Maybe this one will last more than 5 months???”

“Oh man, mine was shattered and the butt of jokes for MONTHS but then it got stolen,” said one more. “Does that count?”

Yes, that counts.

Oftentimes it’s just laziness keeping New Yorkers from fixing their phones. Brian Phothimat, a tech fixer-upper who claims to be able to replace your screen in “5-35 minutes,” said with discernable dismay that he knows people who wait inexcusable amounts of time to get new screens.

“I have clients who sometimes wait 2 to 3 months because it’s not that important to them,” he said

(He then noted he was on the phone from Hawaii, on vacation. In the event of a dropped phone in the next week, well, his clients would be flat out of luck.)

“It gets really bad—when they try to slide it in they cut their hands,” he went on. “Your cell phone is your livelihood! It’s not good to look at. I cracked my iPhone three times and I had to get it fixed right away!”

Well, evidently many others feel differently. After talking about this for a while, we started getting tips, unprompted, from friends. There would be cracked iPhones at parties, cracked iPhones at the office, cracked iPhones on buses in and out of the city.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, our iPhone buzzed with a text from a close college friend who had just finished brunch in Brooklyn with four male acquaintances.

“Playing Taboo at a beer garden,” the text read. “One of them has a cracked iPhone.”

“Noted,” we typed back.

Another ping.

“Apparently there’s a background that is a picture of a crack.”

That is true, but cracked backgrounds are only the beginning. At this moment, just a few single clicks and you will be in possession of cracked iPhone wallpapers, cracked iPhone screen savers, cracked iPhone apps and cracked iPhone games.

Not all cracked iPhone apps are made equal, mind you. Being thrifty, we first picked up “Crack Me Up Lite”—it was free—which does little more than let you browse through none-to-convincing pictures of impact-heavy glass, and then blow them up full screen. Boring. So we ponied up a dollar for “Shattered Screen Joke,” which added one key element of a cracked iPhone app: the high-pitched exaggerated ka-pleesh! sound that attempts to intimate what it sounds like when an actual accident occurs. A nice touch, but nothing close to the real thing.

The full version of “Crack Me Up,” however, is pretty stellar. When you load one of the backgrounds, you can shake your phone to add more and more cracks, each shatter accompanied by a satisfying crunch. If you don’t have the courage to scuff your iPhone up on the ground, this would no doubt suffice.

But how could The Observer even test these apps out, when our phone lay dormant and unblinking after the four-story fall? The day after, we ventured to the Soho Apple store, where the air was thick with discontent. Every five minutes, another citizen approached the genius bar with a crack, or an iPhone that wouldn’t turn on, or a model gashed badly on its bottom USB dock.

The estimate for fixing our phone was $150, and we declined.

Luckily, a friend had an old phone he was set to donate. We met in Williamsburg to complete the exchange. He handed it over at a busy intersection, and as we headed off toward brunch, the sun bounced off the screen and through the blinding rays we saw, across the top, a big visible crack. We thanked him and slipped the phone into our pocket. The Cracked iPhone Club: The City’s Beat-Up Cell Screens Get Chic