On Wednesday, Apple is set to unveil an array of new and improved products at its keynote address. Once they’re announced, people are going to scurry to acquire the shiniest new toy in town. Some will want to show off their devices to all their friends. Others will want to absolutely destroy them, for the benefit of legions of strangers.
As much as we love Apple products, we love even more to see people push them to (and well past) their physical limits. Videos of smashed, boiled, and microwaved iPhones, Apple Watches, and iPads rack up millions of views on YouTube. It’s remarkable to see someone take an expensive piece of hardware right out of the box and break it. It’s confusing; it’s frustrating; it’s fascinating. Most of us could never afford to waste so much money like that, so we watch and re-watch others do it for us.
Kenny Hassan Irwin tells me that he’s been microwaving things ever since he stuck a lightbulb in the machine at age 6. He did it over and over again. He was so enthralled by his science experiment that he imagined a television program that was just microwaving different objects. Once the internet made his dream a possibility, he started uploading videos to MySpace, and once YouTube came around, he created the dOvetastic Microwave Theater.
Irwin doesn’t only break Apple products; he’s been a self-proclaimed Apple user since the late ’70s, so he understands the quality of the hardware he’s maiming. He says Apple’s gear is more durable than the competition, which really shows in videos like “Microwaving My iPHONE 6 Plus.” Along with name recognition, the products’ physical strength makes his Apple videos the most popular on dOvetastic, so much so that he’s stopped microwaving competitors like Samsung altogether.
More durable products mean more interesting microwave outcomes, and Irwin’s stated goal is “creating unique art,” something more one-of-a-kind than the iPhone itself. Part of the appeal of watching an iPhone explode is that many of us can look down at our desk and see the same product sitting there safely. “What still sets my [dOvetastic Microwave Theater] apart,” he tells me, “is transforming the stuff like iPhones into unique works of art that some people have even collected over the years, displayed in their homes or offices, and have even been displayed in the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.”
Irwin says that he’s planning to microwave whatever Apple announces tomorrow — likely an iPhone 6S or 6S Plus — but he’ll have to get the device on his own. “I don’t get paid by Apple to do this,” he tells me. “All the microwaving I do is for the sake of creating microwave art. The items that get microwaved on my show are supplemented either by occasional art sales or YouTube ad revenue.”
It won’t be easy to get the new iPhone immediately; pre-orders selling out in one or two minutes. He estimates his pre-order success rate is about 40 percent. Otherwise he has to wait for a larger release or purchase an exorbitantly marked-up phone on eBay. Once acquired, though, Irwin can continue to excite by setting the device aflame.
Taras Maksimuk is more unpredictable when it comes to his methods of destruction. As TechRax, he’s boiled an iPhone 6 in Coke, smashed a gold Apple Watch between magnets, burned a 5 with gasoline, and more. He didn’t exactly envision it taking off as much as it has, though. “It all just started as a hobby,” he tells me. “Freshman year of high school, I’d go to school, I’d do all my homework, and when I come back home, I wouldn’t have something to do, so I’d be bored and I’d make a video. It was all out of pure fun and entertainment, and it was for free.”
Now, he pushes iPhones to their brink. There’s always an excitement, though, when the device can hold up to his extreme stress testing. When he engulfs the iPhone 5 in gasoline, for example, there’s an audible giddiness in his voice when it survives, and he can replay the video taken from the phone’s perspective. “My ultimate goal is to see that something interesting, some type of reaction that’s out of the ordinary that can occur with an iPhone. I have broken phones over the years, just as experiments, but every one of them is completely different.”
Even with his success, Maksimuk is still at Apple’s mercy, too, come Wednesday. He’s got to wait on the pre-order, just like Irwin and the rest of us. If he’s lucky enough to get one, he’s got to pay full price for it, as well. “It’s investments that go in for the videos. Just hope the risk pays off sometimes. It pays off sometimes. Other times it doesn’t.” He’s also an independent user, meaning that his videos, no matter how well they do, make just as much money as a brand new YouTubers’ would.
Whether for art or science and experimentation, both Irwin and Maksimuk understand Apple’s particular appeal. There’s a tangible pleasure to reducing something many see as quasi-holy to rubbish. By microwaving, boiling, tasing, or scratching it, the iPhone is at once remarkable and ordinary. The more it holds up to the torture, we get an inside look at its futuristic makeup. At the same time, however, it’s boiled down to its elements, rendering it no more than plastic. Apple has become a giant, and through microwave art and destroying the pristine package, Kenny Irwin and Taras Maksimuk let us believe it can be conquered, if we so choose.