Why Does Your Phone Screen Always Crack?

There are few immutable laws of nature: Toast will always land butter-side down, and, similarly, your phone will always fall screen-first. But why does your phone always land upside down? As much as we all love to joke that the laws of nature are out to get us, sometimes it really does feel like your phone lands in the way that causes the most damage possible more often than not — no matter how we scramble to catch them, they always just manage to slip through our fingers, forcing us to watch in paralyzed horror as they tumble in slow motion to their (very expensive) deaths.

So what gives? Is this phone engineers' way of saying we should unplug before we all get text neck? Are we all just really, really clumsy?

Motorola recently asked researcher Robert Matthews to take a look at what makes our smartphones' swan dives so darn destructive, and apparently, the answer has less to do with the whims of phone designers and more to do with Mother Nature — or in this case, Mother Physics. According to Matthews, there are a few variables that play into the fall, including the height of the drop, the spin of the phone, and how you're holding it. (He didn't write anything about whether your cries of terror affect the drop, but I'm sure they factor in somehow.)

Matthews found that the way we hold our phones actually makes them more likely to land screen-down, largely because we tend to hold them below their centers of gravity, at chest height. The former factor affects the spin rate of the phone, while the latter simply doesn't allow enough time for it to land screen-down, especially if we fumble the phone before it falls. In other words, clumsy people are doomed to have cracked phones forever. Sorry.

Matthews also found that the material of the phone case affected the spin; the smoother the phone, the more likely it is to leap gleefully out of our hands before it achieves the spin rate necessary to fall screen-up. As counter-intuitive as it feels, the phone is actually more likely to land face-up if you just let it go — in theory, that is. Don't yell at me or Matthews if it breaks anyway.

This isn't the first time Matthews has investigated the physics of falling objects; in 1996, his research team won an Ig Nobel prize for their seminal paper "Tumbling Toast," which looked at why toast always falls butter-side down. Who said being a scientist couldn't be fun and informative?

Images: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr; Giphy (3)