Shay suggested that as more consumers experience that, word will continue to spread in casual ways that a damaged phone can be a major burden, and iFixit and Square Trade's efforts to educate them will become ever more relevant.
"Millions of Americans have had those experiences, and I think once you've had that it definitely teaches you," he said. "It changes your behavior going forward."
Square Trade has three ways of determining device durability, which can affect the warranties it offers. For one thing, Shay said the thousands of claims the company processes every day provide "real, hard data" about which devices are breaking, not to mention how the machines are breaking. Unfortunately, Square Trade wasn't willing to actually share that data, but the company does use it for its own purposes.
Square Trade also conducts a significant amount of consumer research, Shay said, and it takes its own tests - which range from immersing phones in water to seeing how likely they are to slide off your coffee table - into account.
These tests, which sometimes earn millions of views, can also change consumers' opinions, Shay contended.
"Is that the factor that determines what phone they're going to buy? I would say no," he said. "I would say that it is a factor that enters into their overall decision-making process."
Phones with nine lives
Square Trade said it has yet to conduct a study on which phones are the most or least durable in the industry overall, and it didn't provide any data about which phones are most likely to be returned or require repair.
Spokespeople for the major carriers also refused to play ball. Sprint said that type of data is "competitive information that Sprint does not share," while Verizon said it "[doesn't] share numbers of that nature." AT&T said it's "not something we'd share publicly," and T-Mobile never responded to TechRadar's queries on the matter.
We did, however, speak with one phone maker that focuses on reliability and durability as a rule, not as an afterthought. Caterpillar, the makers of the "ruggedized" Cat B15 and the company that also makes heavy-duty construction equipment, said that its phone is designed specifically "to withstand dropping, knocking, water and dust."
"We have designed the Cat B15 device to be the most progressive, durable and functional device available in the market today," said Cat Director of Strategy Colin Batt. The company offered no hard data on how important that durability is to their customers, but Batt said that the feedback the company gets is "overwhelmingly positive."
Cat did divulge that according to its studies, 77 percent of damage to phones is caused by dropping, and its phones are drop-tested extensively to prevent such damage. The company also tests its phones to make sure the handsets can withstand certain levels of water, dust, shock and vibration, Batt said.
If a Cat phone does sustain damage, the company doesn't encourage consumers to repair it themselves, but like other phone makers offers warranties and return policies that "are in line with the market."
"We recognize that some people's exuberance to demonstrate the durability of their Cat phone may 'end in tears,'" Batt said.
"We don't warrant that the phone is indestructible, as everything can be broken if you try hard enough," he continued. "We know exactly how the devices behave and what they look like when they have been put through scenarios that exceed our claims."
Manufacturer knows best
We also asked several other phone makers, including Apple, Nokia, HTC, Samsung, Huawei, BlackBerry and Motorola, to weigh in on the topic of device reparability, but none of the companies we asked were interested in discussing it.