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Will Apple replace your bent iPhone 6? It depends

The device must pass certain guidelines covered in an iPhone Visual Inspection Test, according to an Apple support rep who chatted with The Next Web.

The bent aluminum body of an iPhone 6 Plus. Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Apple has bumped into a new controversy after complaints from iPhone 6 Plus owners that their phones bend, especially after being kept in a pocket for hours on end. But will Apple replace such a bent phone, or is the customer stuck with it?

A reporter from The Next Web struck up a chat with an Apple support rep to ask if a bent iPhone is covered by Apple's warranty, according to a story published on Wednesday. The question simply phrased was: "So does a bent enclosure occurring during normal use fit under the warranty?"

In response, the support rep offered the following information:

That is 100 percent up to the Genius you speak with at the store. There is a test called a Visual Mechanical Inspection that the device will have to pass. If it is within the guidelines, they will be able to cover it. If not, the replacement would be a paid one.

Pressed for more details on the Genius Bar guidelines, the support rep told TNW that this information was unavailable to those who handle chat support. But just what is this Visual Mechanical Inspection?

A Web search for this item turned up a Scribd document called "iPhone Visual/Mechanical Inspection Guide" courtesy of blog site iClarified. Dated January 9, 2012, the document was apparently discovered and leaked by known Apple leaker Sonny Dickson.

As described on its second page, the document is geared toward Apple support and service personnel to help them determine whether a defective device is covered under warranty. Since the document dates back to 2012, there's obviously no specific mention of bends occurring in an iPhone 6. The document itself has certainly been updated since then, but the 2012 document does offer at least a couple of clues, notably:

"The iPhone warranty covers failures caused solely by manufacturing defects" and "Catastrophic damage caused by abuse and interoperability caused by installation of unauthorized software is not serviceable."

Based on those two points, Apple would have to determine that the so-called Bendgate issue -- reports that the thinner aluminum bodies of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are prone to bending -- is caused by a manufacturing defect and that keeping a phone in your pocket for several hours is not a form of abuse. If those determinations are made, then it seems that the bent iPhones should be covered under warranty and therefore subject to replacement or other support by Apple.

The support rep who chatted with TNW also indicated that the issue is being heavily investigated at Apple, saying specifically that "we're looking into this with an insane amount of detail."

Though the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, and to a lesser extend the iPhone 6, is the target of current attention on the bend issue, other phones appear to be subject to similar flaws. An old thread in Apple's support forum points to bends reported in the iPhone 5 and 5S. A story posted on Tuesday by CultofMac also cited older iPhones as well as Samsung, Sony, BlackBerry and other phones as prone to bending under certain conditions -- some extreme and some not too extreme.

Until Apple can figure out how to handle the Bendgate crisis, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners should house their phone in a secure and durable case to protect it from any bending, especially if kept in your pocket for countless hours.

CNET contacted Apple for comment and will update the story with any further details.