Everyone knows the feeling. Your grip slips. You bump something with your arm.

Whatever happens, your smartphone tumbles to the ground, almost in slow-motion. It slaps the hard surface of the floor, bounces up a little, and then lands with a flat crack. From the sound alone you know what it means. Your smartphone screen is cracked. It’s ugly to look at and a pain to have fixed, but there’s nothing you can do. But what if there was?

A German engineer developed a kind of phone case that senses when its falling, allowing little legs to pop out. The phone lands on these, rather than the smartphone screen, and once you retrieve it, the legs pop right back in. Think of it like reusable airbags for the smartphone screen, only they are spring-loaded and made of soft plastic. Very soon, these devices (or others quite like them) will be in all of the best smartphone cases.

What’s the big deal about a broken smartphone screen?

If you happen to be one of the last few holdouts using a flip-phone, a broken smartphone screen varies in severity from mild annoyance to making the phone unusable. Even if an old phone’s screen went stone dead, you could still make and receive calls. However, the amount of buttons on a smartphone are down to four or fewer. If the smartphone screen goes, your device is all but inoperable. And it also could be unsafe. 

smartphone, smartphone screen

Credit: Ashwin Kumar, Wikimedia Commons

Not all cracked screens are born equal. A shattered smartphone screen needs to be replaced immediately, but sometimes it’s just a few cracks. The phone still works, even though the screen is an eyesore. But it could also be a finger-sore, too. Those cracks in the glass can be razor sharp and could cut your fingertip. If there is a spider-webbed crack in the smartphone screen, you also run the risk of picking up glass splinters. It may be inconvenient, but you will need to get your screen fixed, at least before you try to trade-in or sell the phone.

Why can’t they just make screens that don’t break?

Today’s smartphones are designed to be slender, sleek devices. However, because they are so fragile, we have to wrap them in cases in order to keep them that way. The cases prevent the smartphone screen from breaking if it’s dropped or tossed carelessly in a bag. Still, if you don’t mind a scuffed up phone, there are other ways to protect the screen. 

smartphone, smartphone screen

Credit: Sygmoral, Wikimedia Commons

Smartphone manufacturers are looking to use stronger glass for the screens, including Sapphire glass. These ultra-hard materials are tough to crack or scratch. However, they are also costlier to use. Even though almost every smartphone is a luxury tech device, they are made for mass-market consumption. To that end, some places sell tough glass covers for the smartphone screen. The theory is that these screens will crack before the main screen on the phone will. And no matter how strong they make them, people will probably find ways to break them. 

So, what’s so special about this case then?

This one-of-a-kind case uses what it’s creator, engineer at Aalen University Philip Frenzel, calls “active damping.” He developed sensors in the thin plastic case that sense when the phone is in freefall. Initially, he then thought he’d use an airbag to protect the smartphone screen from damage. When that didn’t work, he thought about compressible foam. Yet, none of those solutions were practical. That’s when he turned to some old-school technology: the spring.

The mechanism he developed is ingenious. Folded into the corners of the smartphone are eight pieces of metal coated in a malleable plastic. They lie flat inside the case, but once activated by the sensors, they spring into action. Outside of their folded position, the metal curls up (or down, depending on your perspective) like tiny claws. When the phone lands on the ground, the force is distributed through these legs and protects the smartphone screen from damage.

Okay, that is cool, where can I buy one?

smartphone, smartphone screen

Credit: Preview Online

Unfortunately, for now, this system is unique to Frenzel’s prototype. But he has applied for a patent in Germany. He hopes to mass-produce these, but it’s unclear if he’s looking for investors or simply plans to crowdfund the capital he needs for a trial run. Either way, something is going to happen, and you will soon see these cases for sale. Of course, imitators will also pop up, but it’s unclear if Franzel’s device can be easily replicated. Still, it gives hope to clumsy teens and careless adults everywhere. Soon, the idea of being forced to use a cracked screen will be a distant memory.

The broken smartphone screen could soon be a thing of the past.

Given the frustration and annoyance of the broken smartphone screen, we're excited for the possibilities this new technology holds.

What do you think of this idea? Would you want one of these cases? Share your thoughts, reactions, and suggestions in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article online to see what your friends think about it!

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