Why Is It OK to Abuse Customers?

I don’t know about you but I can’t seem to get out of my head the image of that poor Asian doctor who, seemingly unconscious, was dragged off that United flight. The fact that the airline did that to a 69-year-old doctor just so it could save money moving employees around is nearly as unbelievable as the initial
tone-deaf response from United’s CEO, who blamed the passenger. (It was only after a tremendous backlash that the CEO offered an actual apology.)

While the United debacle was going on, I happened to be reviewing Qualcomm’s counterclaim against Apple, and holy crap. It alleges that Apple crippled the modems in some iPhones to cover up its use of cheap parts, and that it aggressively acted to prevent anyone, particularly Qualcomm, from pointing it out.

I have the view that if you pay for a thing, you should get that thing — and Apple customers, according to Qualcomm, are getting screwed. Given how we depend on our phones, my guess is that if this is true, it won’t end well for Apple.

I’ll share some thoughts on customer abuse and then close with my product of the week: the Netgear Arlo Security Camera system (again).

Customer Abuse

I often wonder if top executives and boards have some weird undiagnosed disease that causes them, from time to time, to do something so incredibly stupid you have to wonder if someone snuck up on a bunch of them and hit them with a stupid stick.

I recall having a discussion with an IBM exec I reported to back in the early 1990s about the company’s practice of intentionally creating buggy products and then charging customers to fix the problems it had created. I asked why we were doing something that seemed insane, only to be told, effectively, that since the customer had no choice, IBM could do what it wanted to them and they would pay whatever IBM charged.

It was like selling air. It remains one of the most idiotic responses I’ve ever heard, and shortly after I left the firm that entire executive team was canned. (Apparently the newly hired CEO, Louis Gerstner, agreed with my assessment.)

Microsoft had a group of executives who covered up that Office 98 wasn’t backward-compatible, and a different group covered up the issues with Windows Vista that should have prevented its release. Those issues created massive problems with customers, and most of the folks responsible lost their jobs as a result.

To hit aggressive price points with lithium-ion batteries in the early 2000s, Sony covered up that they hadn’t updated their lines to prevent metal contamination. The batteries became contaminated and caught fire, forcing massive recalls and pretty much wiping out Sony’s lithium-ion battery business.

Those batteries could have resulted in an impressive number of deaths had one of them gone up next to a better fuel source on a plane. The lithium-ion coverup followed Sony’s institution of a program to put rootkits on PCs in an attempt to combat piracy, which opened those PCs to hacking and put customers at risk. The backlash over that helped wipe out Sony’s Walkman business and opened the door to the iPod.

Takata covered up that their airbags were not aging well and actually could kill drivers when they deployed. It apparently did not do anything to address the problem, which eventually was discovered and resulted in the biggest automotive recall in history. It still might put the company out of business.

It appears that Samsung cut short quality testing to get the Galaxy Note7 out quickly only to find out it was catching fire. In an effort to address that problem quickly, it guessed wrong about the cause, and replacement phones caught fire too. To recover some of the costs associated with its massive recall, Samsung decided to sell refurbished Galaxy Note7s, and I doubt that’ll end well. I think Samsung has a death wish.

It really seems like an epidemic of stupid at times…

United’s Disastrous Decision

There were two paths that United could have taken to move employees to another location without causing an uproar. One was to increase the voucher amount offered to passengers to a point where it was cheaper to charter a plane to move the employees, or simply to have in place what many non-airline companies use, a fleet of smaller planes for employees’ use.

What is particularly scary about the method that United chose is that it didn’t factor in why people weren’t taking a US$1,000 voucher to change flights. Its method for choosing which passengers to bump only focuses on connections, so those who were ending up at the destination airport were prioritized for bumping.

What if someone’s job depended on getting to a location on time? What if someone had a dying relative, a wedding or funeral to attend? What if someone were a doctor who needed to get to a critical patent? None of those possibilities was been taken into account, and the poor guy who was beaten up was in fact a doctor.

United’s decision has cost it millions in brand damage, and because the passenger looked as though he might have been Chinese, China is treating this like a racial attack on its people, which could result in sanctions. I bet that before this is over, Congress might put a law on the books addressing it. I’d name it “The United CEO Is An Idiot Law.” (By the way, PRWeek
wants its award back. Suddenly this is an Oscar 2017-like event.) It may even cost the CEO his job — all because it didn’t have a better way to move employees around, which is kind of sadly ironic given it is in the transportation business.

At the end of that last linked article, the author asks why it took so long for United even to understand this was a problem. It was because, in the minds of its executives, customers had stopped being people and had become an exploitable resource instead. That attitude generally is considered a company and career killer.

Apple’s Secret War on Customers

Between Apple and Samsung, I’m not sure which has the stronger tendency for suicidal policies. Apple clearly has a problem, because it is a firm that is valued largely for its innovation, and that is one word that largely has been used in the past tense since Tim Cook took over for Steve Jobs. While the iPhone has done well — particularly this last quarter, thanks to Samsung’s suicidal moves — nothing else has risen to diversify Apple’s revenue or offset a trend of increasing margin pressure. As a result, Apple has moved to a strategy of aggressively cutting costs.

That sets a foundation for the kind of problem that I mentioned earlier in this column. You see, Apple customers effectively are locked in to Apple services — which would be OK, as long as Apple didn’t see it as an opportunity to mine them, and could grow its revenue and margins by creating more and more compelling products.

However, Apple hasn’t done that. The Apple Watch has languished, the iPad is in decline, and the iPad Pro has been a disappointment. MacBooks, Macs and iMacs have been cash cows for so long that reviving them seems increasingly unlikely, and is driving the company go cheap on components while considering charging more and more for iPhones.

The Qualcomm filing basically just says “Apple is an assh*le,” which is far from an uncommon position from any Apple supplier. It gets interesting on page 46 of the whopping 130-page document. It alleges that Apple not only has been using sub-optimal (read cheap) parts, but also has been threatening to retaliate should anyone point that out.

Point 4 on page 46, basically says there are two iPhones in market sold as the same phone: one with cheap parts, and one with good parts but that Apple is crippling so that people can’t tell the difference (and thereby avoid the bad phone). However, Apple can’t cripple it enough, so people are barred from pointing out that the crippled phone is still better. WTF!?!

Here is the thing: Increasingly we live on our cellphones. We depend on them to work if there is an emergency. Our lives increasingly literally depend on them, and folks think that by buying Apple they are getting the best. However, if Qualcomm is correct, they either are getting a substandard phone — or worse, an intentionally crippled product.

The potential consequences range from poor performance to bad connectivity, which could leave users with a phone that doesn’t work when they most need it. Cutting quality while raising prices and aggressively covering that up only works temporarily. Eventually people figure it out — and that didn’t end well for IBM or for the CEO that shortly thereafter was fired.

Like all of the other examples I’ve cited here, Apple’s alleged action is customer abuse. If it turns out to be true, then it means that the only difference between Apple and all the rest of these bad examples is that Apple has taken more money from its customers. I expect that as a reason to buy from a company, that likely falls pretty low on anyone’s list.

I’ll add one other element that I think is very similar to the old IBM and the new Apple. Both companies enjoyed — and still enjoy — phenomenal customer loyalty. Even though IBM’s behavior had been going on for years, most customers seemed to give IBM the benefit of the doubt. As a result, when the problem became pronounced it went to nuclear unbelievably fast.

Certainly, it was way too fast for the existing management team to respond, and the result was a purge. It eventually saved the company, but it was a very close thing. Apple’s loyalty is, if anything, greater than IBM’s was — and today’s consumer market certainly can move a ton faster than enterprise computing did back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What this means is that if this alleged anti-customer behavior is left in place too long, the backlash on Apple could be unrecoverable — particularly if Google further reduces the migration pain to Android.

Given that many of you have huge investments in Apple, I’m suggesting you might not want to have all those eggs in that same troubled basket. Diversification may save your ass.

Wrapping Up

There are times when I wonder if boards and CEOs either are mentally challenged or suicidal. From Samsung, to United, to Apple, this year has been an increasingly ugly example of executives behaving badly.

I know I missed the chapter in management school that suggested screwing customers was a great business practice, but I seriously think those pages should be torn into little bitty pieces and tossed out, along with the idiots who adhere to this strategy.

In any case, this month has provided a strong “teachable moment.” Let’s hope a lot of executives learn by watching rather than doing. It is never OK to abuse customers. When companies do, they have translated “customers” into “things.” We really don’t like being mistreated as “things.”

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

When I last wrote about this product, I’d installed two cameras and was impressed that the batteries had lasted a couple weeks. Well, it’s been over a month, and I’m now up to 10 cameras. I’ve had to recharge only two batteries, both of which had more than half their battery life left even though they were in very high traffic areas, which suggests these puppies could last for months in low-traffic areas.

We’ve caught stray dogs wondering in our yard, the gate left open and our dogs sneaking in and out of it, delivery people who have lied about deliveries, pet sitters who weren’t doing what they said they were doing, and a herd of deer wandering in to munch on our newly planted flowers. This system is AWESOME!

Netgear Arlo Pro

Netgear Arlo Pro

The Netgear Arlo is my third camera system, and it was by far the easiest to set up. The lack of wiring means I can put the cameras anyplace I want, and I can install a ton of them. My dogs and cats each have their own tracking camera, but my wife had me move the one that was on her. (That’ll teach me to tell her, huh?)

I did figure out one thing: It is cheaper to buy the cameras in the bundle then one by one. You can get an Arlo system with four cameras for $350 if you shop around, while the cameras individually cost around $150.

Sadly, I didn’t figure this out until after I’d purchased an additional eight cameras. Further, you get up to five cameras with the free service, but if you want to go to 10 it will set you back $99 a year. However, you then get 30 days of storage for up to 10 GB of data. For 15 cameras, it’s $149 a year and you get 60 days storage for up to 100 GB.

Arlo just launched a $450 camera, and what makes it different is that it has local storage, a 3G/4G connection, and a massive battery. Sadly, this is only available to large companies or the government, and we know they would never use them to spy on you…

It has been a long time since I was this excited about a product, and that is why the Netgear Arlo is my product of the week — again! You could call this “the iPod of security camera systems.”

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has undergrad degrees in merchandising and manpower management, and an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

TechCrunch’s first-quarter tech earnings season prop bets

Here at TechCrunch, we tend to pay close attention to the earnings reports of the big companies. And for good reason! It gives us some insight into major technology trends and some signals that can help us not only predict what products are going to be around in a few years (not mentioning any names), but also directionally what kinds of startups might be successful.


Sometimes these reports can be dull. And sometimes these reports can be quite boring and fall directly in-line with what Wall Street and everyone else expects. We have a couple new entries this quarter like Snap, but since we’re here, we might as well have a little bit of fun. So we’re going to set out some of the odds of some of the fun, stupid and interesting things that might happen this earnings season.



Anything bad happens because it’s 4 A.M.: 3/2

Jack Dorsey says he’s still running both companies: 3/1

Twitter’s ad business shrinks: 2/1

Twitter talks about its great new executive team: 5/1

More Twitter layoffs: 50/1

Jack Dorsey accidentally calls Twitter “Square” and has to apologize: 25/1

Square shares go up after Twitter falls for some reason: 3/2


Apple grows revenue and/or iPhone sales: 5/1

Over/under on “Customer Sat” mentions on the earnings call: 3

Apple breaks out Apple Watch numbers: 100/1

Apple services revenue breaks $9 billion: 10/1

Self-driving car mention: 15/1

Tim Cook says services revenue will be “size of a fortune 100 company” in 2016: 3/1

Someone mentions augmented reality: 15/1

Apple stock rises more than 3%: 7/1

Over/under on number of Qualcomm lawsuit mentions (analyst or otherwise): 3

An Apple executive actually names Qualcomm on the call: 7/1

Greater China revenue shrinks: 4/1

Someone says something about the Apple car: 15/1

Apple TV is called a “hobby”: 25/1


Line on Other Bets loss: $900M

Larry Page shows up to earnings call: 40/1

The Waymo lawsuit is mentioned in some fashion: 20/1

Someone actually mentions Uber by name: 50/1

Alphabet breaks out cloud revenue: 25/1

Alphabet cost-per-click grows: 50/1

Alphabet declares a regular dividend: 3/2

Alphabet shares go up more than 3%: 6/1

Someone mentions currency fluctuations: 7/1


Yahoo discloses another hack: 25/1


Mark Zuckerberg says something about his USA tour: 3/2

Instagram is fully broken out: 100/1

Analysts ask about fake news: 5/1

User growth stalls completely: 50/1

A Facebook executive actually addresses fake news: 15/1

The number of stories posted to Instagram is mentioned: 3/2

Someone says anything about GIFs: 10/1

Facebook stock goes up by 3%: 8/1


Snap somehow discloses some number that’s beating Instagram: 50/1

A Snap executive actually mentions Instagram by name: 75/1

A Snap executive actually answers the inevitable question regarding Instagram Stories DAUs with some clarity: 45/1

Snap actually beats expectations enough to warrant its current revenue multiple: 25/1

Snap announces some new corporate governance method to share control with public investors: haha yeah right

Snap stock goes up by 3%: 4/1

Snap breaks out Spectacles revenue: 10/1


Microsoft discloses last quarter’s Windows Phone sales: 100/1

Microsoft breaks out Surface Studio sales numbers: 75/1

Microsoft breaks out Azure-specific run rate: 25/1

Google Cloud or AWS is actually mentioned: 30/1

Satya Nadella quotes some poetry: 35/1

Microsoft shares go up 3% or more: 9/1


Some ominous mention or signal of additional future layoffs: 5/1


Netflix somehow beats expectations for domestic subscriber growth: 7/1

Netflix original series The 3% is mentioned: 8/1 (great show by the way)

Over/under on 2017’s content spend if mentioned: $6.5 billion

Iron Fist is mentioned by an executive or analyst: 5/1


Amazon actually breaks out Kindle sales numbers in absolute terms: 15/1

Amazon makes money by some accident: 5/1

AWS hits a $12B annual run rate: 8/1

Amazon shares go up at least 3%: 3/1

Media is mentioned for some reason: 4/1

An Amazon executive mentions the number of Alexa skills: 3/2

Over/under on number of Alexa skills if mentioned: 7,000


Box returns to negative free cash flow: 5/1

Over/under on mentions of “cohort analysis” during earnings call: 2

Box stock goes up 3% or more: 6/1


Verizon apologizes for calling it “Oath”: 100/1

TechCrunch shoutout: 200/1 (come on Tim!)


PayPal’s stock goes up 3% or more for some reason: 4/1

PayPal actually has some breakout of Venmo: 5/1 (💪💪💪)


Apple is actually mentioned by name with regards to the pending lawsuit: 15/1

Over/under on number of mentions or questions regarding the Apple lawsuit: 5


Fitbit’s market cap falls below GoPro after its report: 3/2

Over/under on gratuitous vanity metrics mentioned: 7


Tesla is GAAP profitable: 7/1

Tesla actually beats expectations for car shipments: 5/1

Tesla says it will raise more money with a stock sale: 25/1

Discussion concerning the raising of new external capital: 5/1

Over/under for the number of analyst questions regarding SolarCity: 4


Someone says Pandora is “exploring strategic options”: 5/1


Something interesting enough that’s worth mentioning happens: 50/1


GoPro’s stock hits another all-time low: 7/1

Something dumb happens: 3/1


Another minor beat: 3/1

Be sure to check out TechCrunch in the coming weeks for its coverage of earnings for major tech companies.

Alex Wilhelm, editor-in-chief of Crunchbase News, contributed to this post.

Featured Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

5 questions we want Facebook to answer at F8

It’s that time of year again. Facebook is gearing up for its biggest event of the year.

The company’s F8 developer conference is set to kick off Tuesday and there will likely be no shortage of news coming out of the two-day event. 

While the only real certainty is that there will be at least a few surprises in store, there are a few topics we’re rooting for Zuckerberg and other Facebook execs tackle.

How’s that fight against fake news going?

Last year, Zuckerberg used the F8 stage to deliver a pretty righteous burn to Donald Trump. A lot has changed since then, though. Zuckerberg’s been forced to adopt a more measured tone and Facebook has found itself embroiled in a fake news controversy that just won’t go away. So we’d love nothing more than for Zuckerberg to use his keynote to address the issue head-on.

He probably won’t. F8 is an event typically reserved for developer news, vanity stats and a look at new research and technologies — you know, happy feel-good updates. And, despite recent updates meant to combat the issue, Facebook’s fake news problem is none of those things. 

So definitely don’t hold your breath on this one, but we’re not ready to rule it out just yet.

WTF is the plan for social VR?

Last year, Zuckerberg wowed F8’s developers with a fresh Toy Box demo, an early preview of Zuckerberg’s vision to bring social experiences to virtual reality. We’ve gotten a few more looks at the technology since then but Facebook has yet to deliver much beyond the promise of VR selfies.

Image: facebook

We’re now more than a year past the consumer release of Oculus Rift but the social VR future we keep being promised feels as far away as ever.

Nonetheless, Zuckerberg seems to really, truly believe social VR will sooner or later become a real thing real people will want to really do (even though it has serious problems). With a total eight developer sessions devoted to VR (compare that with just two last year), it looks like we’ll be hearing a much more meaningful update.

What’s next for Messenger?

Given the flurry of recent Messenger updates, you’d be forgiven for thinking Facebook’s unstoppable messaging app could be taking more of a backseat compared to years past. But Messenger has taken center stage at the last two F8 conferences and we don’t expect this year to be any different. 

While we won’t know for sure until keynote time, Facebook will likely highlight some of Messenger’s recent updates, like the addition of a digital assistant, M, and Messenger Day, even if they don’t have a new developer tie-in to announce. 

Speaking of developers, there are also three vaguely named sessions dedicated to bots and businesses on Messenger, so expect an update on that front.

What’s up with all those Snapchat clones?

Okay, we’re pretty sure Zuckerberg won’t use the (very public) F8 stage to detail his seemingly diabolical plan to crush Snapchat. But bet on Zuck and others taking the opportunity to brag about the sheer dominance of Instagram Stories, the recently-released Messenger Day update and the new Snapchat clone that lives inside the main Facebook app.

There are no less than three sessions dedicated to “Facebook Camera” — two of which are dedicated to making frames and one called “Get Creative with the Facebook Camera — so expect an expansion of the social network’s user-generated profile frames at the very least. (Zuckerberg has also been dropping some not-so-subtle hints with his “preparing for F8” selfies.) 

And while the schedule doesn’t offer any hints of updates for Facebook’s other Snapchat clones, the bigger strategy behind the updates may come into sharper focus. 

What the heck is going on in Building 8?

This one’s a long shot, but it would be huge. A quick refresher: Building 8 is the Facebook’s new secretive hardware lab lead by former DARPA director Regina Dugan, who lead a similar team at Google. We haven’t heard much from the team since they hired Dugan, which incidentally was almost exactly a year ago, but we haven’t given up hope that we could get a taste of it at F8.

Given the experimental nature of Building 8, there’s unlikely to be any developer-facing updates from the group in the near future, but Facebook could still use F8 to tease some of the projects Dugan and her team are cooking up. Job postings and a recent acquisition suggest they’re working on everything from “brain-computer interfaces” to mysterious hardware projects, which sound like just the type of stuff that would up the “wow” factor for Facebook’s big show. 

WATCH: Facebook stalkers confess their dark secrets

Brazen Coachella thief steals 100 phones, is defeated with the help of ‘Find My Phone’

Lotta phones.
Lotta phones.

Image: facebook/indio police department

Some dude at Coachella stuffed 100 stolen phones in his backpack but forgot people can track those things. 

Police arrested New York resident Reinaldo De Jesus Henao, 36, on Friday after several people couldn’t find their phones and wisely activated the “Find My Phone” feature, which pointed them to a guy walking around with a backpack, according to the Indio Police Department.

While someone looking to steal cellphones can probably do so just about anywhere, Coachella seems a particularly easy place to get away with it. People take their phones out to snap photos of artists, and music plus the writhing mass of people at a concert makes it hard to tell when some thief has gotten a little too close.

Reinaldo De Jesus Henao

Reinaldo De Jesus Henao

Image: Facebook/indio police department

Some festival-goers have since been reunited with their phones, and those who haven’t have been directed to Coachella’s lost and found. 

Police took Henao to a correctional center where he was charged with grand theft and possession of stolen property, but he walked out after putting up the $10,000 required to bail him out, according to KMIR. Coachella revelers, keep an eye on your stuff. 

WATCH: Facebook’s F8 conference just got a ‘Fast and Furious’ mashup

Steve Jobs’ custom Apple I and other historic machines are on display at Seattle museum

Long before the iPhone or even the Mac, Apple was a handful of people working in an industry that was only just beginning to take the idea of personal computing seriously. In the earliest days of those early days, Steves Wozniak and Jobs made their first device together: the Apple I. Few of these were sold, and fewer still survive — but the Living Computers museum in Seattle managed to get three. And one of them was Jobs’ personal machine.

Paul Allen, the museum’s founder and patron, has caused to be assembled quite an impressive collection of devices from Apple’s history, many of which have been restored to working condition. The public will be able to tinker with a NeXT Cube as well as early Macs, but the pride and joy of the collection must be the Apple Is.

The new exhibit, which highlights the collaboration and competition between Apple and Microsoft over the years as the companies grew, is open today.

The Apple I, you may or may not remember, wasn’t much of a hit. Only 200 were made — by hand — and it wasn’t long before the company put its hopes in the Apple II, which would go on to be more popular by far. One of the Is, however, Jobs kept in his office as a demo machine for industry people.

When Jobs left in 1985 he left in a hurry, and this I was left behind on a shelf. Don Hutmacher, one of the company’s first employees, grabbed it and it stayed in his possession until he passed away last year. His wife generously allowed the museum to take care of it, and you can imagine their gratitude.

The team had their suspicious, but a tag inside the metal chassis — and the fact that it had a chassis at all, since Apple Is came just as boards — suggested it was more than a rare Apple I; it was the rarest. It’s signed “BF,” which would have been employee number one, Bill Fernandez. This was definitely, the team decided, Jobs’ custom machine.

Because the Apple I didn’t have a ROM, and Jobs didn’t want to have to program it from scratch any time someone wanted to see it in action, he had a custom EPROM attached to it that initialized the computer with BASIC when it started up. Its RAM, the engineering team suspects, was also augmented so it didn’t run out and crash during the demo.

The team at the museum read the contents of this EPROM and used it to set up a second, less historic Apple I. That one, which has had its power components modified to be a little less prone to catching fire or warping the circuit board, will now be available in this primed state for anyone to play with. Yes, anyone — the only operational Apple I on the planet right now, and your kid can type “butts” on it with fingers still greasy from the sandwich they got across the street.

That’s the mission of the museum, though: the Apple I, along with dozens of other ancient computers, from Altairs to mainframes from the 60’s, are deliberately there to be touched and, if not truly understood (few kids know BASIC these days), at least experienced.

Ahead of the exhibit’s opening, a small reunion was held for a handful of people who had a hand in the early days of Apple, Microsoft, and the home computer industry. Steve Wosniak and Paul Allen met — for the first time, amazingly — and chatted over an Apple II. And it wasn’t until someone took stock of the situation that they realized that the entire original team that built the Apple I in Steve Jobs’ garage — minus the departed Steve — were together again for the first time in decades:

  1. Apple 1 Team Retouched

  2. Paul Allen and Woz

  3. Apple Group with Labels V3

The museum has also been working with the University of Washington to compile an oral history of this era of computing, and many of the people who figured in the creation of the Apple I.

Now that the exhibit is open, feel free to drop by the museum and touch a few pieces of computing history — though you may need to brush up on your BASIC.

A new study uncovered this terrifying fact about the way we drive

Man holding cellphone while driving.
Man holding cellphone while driving.

Image: Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It doesn’t come a moment too soon: A troubling new study has found that a terrifyingly high amount of drivers still use their phones behind the wheel.

Despite the proliferation of apps and devices aimed at preventing phone usage while driving, the study—by driver analytics company, Zendrive—revealed that drivers in America use their mobile devices during 88 out of 100 car trips.

That’s A LOT.

In what Zendrive calls the largest behavior study on distracted driving, the company analyzed three million anonymous drivers for three months, reviewing 570 million car trips taken between Dec. 2016 and Feb. 2017, covering 5.6 billion miles.

Not only did drivers use their phones during 88 percent of the 570 million trips, but also, during hour-long drives, those behind the wheel spent an average of 3.5 minutes using their phones. That’s especially worrisome considering that life-altering damage can be done in a matter of seconds.

Whether you’re talking on speaker phone, texting, or taking selfies, any distraction, no matter how long, constitutes distracted driving. Past studies from researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have shown that dialing a phone could increase a drivers’ chance of crashing by 12 times. Simply reaching for your mobile device raises the risk of crashing by almost five times.

Zendrive also broke down driver behavior by location to determine the top five states for distracted driving: Vermont, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas.

Since traffic deaths saw a spike in 2016, this study is yet another call to action, reminding drivers that accidents caused by distractions can be prevented by simply putting down the phone. You can look at it all you want when you’re not behind the wheel.

WATCH: I tried a self-driving car in London and lived to tell the tale

Pittsburgh’s Kerf Cases enrobes your phone in fine wood

One iPhone case is much like the other unless it’s made of figured walnut wood from a retired woodworker in California and feels like the surface of a finely-sanded and well-made piece of antique cabinetry. That’s why Kerf Cases, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer, is so cool.

The founder, Ben Saks, has been working in wood for most of his life. While working at Carnegie Mellon University he created his first case using a manual milling machine and then, over the next six months, he perfected his design. He became an artist residency at Alpha Lab Gear in 2014 and then joined Techship Pittsburgh where he honed his product. Finally he opened a facility in Pittsburgh’s East End.

Saks makes cases for iPhones and the Pixel. They start at $99 and are available in multiple woods including mahogany, cherry, and maple. All of the pieces come from salvaged trees and Saks makes wallets and iPad accessories as well.

“‘Kerf’ is the thickness of material removed from a saw blade, usually measured in 1/1000 of an inch. This standard wood working term is important to KerfCase’s philosophy, as it represents the precision needed to make our wood iPhone cases,” said Saks. “Every piece of wood has a story, whether it’s a piece of reclaimed flooring, or a beautiful burled wood from a local tree which was damaged in a storm. Our woodworking is a continuation of this story, connecting you to the history of the material.”

“Kerf is not a startup, and it took us a long time to realize this. Our value proposition is not something that is scalable like software. By scaling, we would lose the most important aspects of our business. We have grown slowly and organically, through word-of-mouth and a small, dedicated fanbase,” he said.

The case I tested, a deep and dark walnut model, is smooth and cool to the touch and actually amplifies the speaker thanks to the way the wood surrounds the entire phone. It’s quite light and feels far nicer than the original rubber case. It’s no richly inlaid wooden case hand-made by a blind woodcutter but, I suspect, it’s the next best thing.

Drones are smuggling so much contraband into prisons that the UK created a ‘squad’

Police in the U.K. hope they'll soon be the only ones using drones around prisons.
Police in the U.K. hope they’ll soon be the only ones using drones around prisons.

Image: joel Goodman/LNP/REX/Shutterstock

To keep contraband out of prisons, the United Kingdom wants drones out of the sky.

The nation announced a new “squad” on Monday that will trace captured drones back to their owners – something like a group of detectives.

Working with “national law enforcement agencies and HM Prison and Probation Service,” the new squad will try to match captured drones with their owners so they can figure out who is trying to smuggle drugs, cellphones and other items over prison walls. Smugglers used drones to get contraband over prison walls 33 times in 2015 compared with just two times in 2014 and none in 2013, according to the Press Association.

UK police have thrown drone smugglers in jail for several years after recent convictions. Two men were jailed for six and four years at the end of March after using drones in an attempt “to flood prisons across Hertfordshire, Suffolk and Kent” with around $60,000 worth of heroin, marijuana and other drugs. Late last year, 21-year-old Dean Rawley-Bell found himself serving a nearly five-year sentence for using a drone to try to sneak drugs and phones into a Manchester prison. Last October, 23-year-old Renelle Carlisle was thrown in jail for more than three years after police found a drone in his bag by a prison in Warrington, where he had been trying to use the device to get drugs inside. 

“My message to those who involve themselves in this type of criminal activity is clear,” Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah said in a prepared statement. “We will find you and put you behind bars.”

Prison officials in the United States have also become aware of contraband entering their facilities from the sky. Some prisons in the U.S. have taken to installing sensors that listen for the soft whir of a drone motor. Upon hearing those subtle sounds, the sensor sends an alarm to officials, who know to be on the lookout. 

Police in the U.S., however, do not yet have an anti-drone squad.

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