Everyone has a story about the time they jumped into the pool with their phone in their pocket, or dropped it in the toilet, or spilled a brew on it. In every instance, that was the death of their phones. And yet somehow, waterproofing is a niche and surprising feature for smartphones. Samsung made a whole advertising campaign about it, with Lil’ Wayne pouring champagne on every Galaxy S7 he could find. Sony touted the water-resistance of the Xperia Z5. A briefly viral YouTube meme found that Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus could manage some submersion, though you’re still tempting fate if you try and dunk yours.
The majority of today’s smartphones can’t manage even a five-second dip in the sink or the lavatory. There are too many fissures, holes, and ports where water can squeeze itself in. There are, of course, options for those who crave waterproofing: stick on a fat innertube of a instance, buy a phone made by a construction company, or just go with the good ol’ Ziploc bag.
@pierce Dropped my s5 in a porto-potty lavatory bc it was dark and how else was I supposed to see but with my phone flashlight ?? lol
— Andrew Ackley (@ andrew_ackley) August 31, 2016
That’s not good enough. Not even close. Your phone’s one of the most expensive things you own, and it’s almost certainly the device most full of important memories and info. It goes everywhere with you, or at the least you’d like it to.( You know you’d take your phone in the shower if you could .) Yet we’re all one back-pocket slip or super-humid day from it all merely disappearing.
In 2012, SquareTrade, which sells insurance against lots of electronics, released its Smartphone Accident Survey. Two of the five most common accident scenarios were” Immersed in liquid” and” Liquid spilled on it .” Even now, tells Vince Tseng, SquareTrade’s chief services policeman, the only thing they see more than liquid injury is cracked screens. And everyone’s working on cracked screens.
Somehow, your phone’s fragility has been made out to be your fault–if you transgress it, you must have been doing something wrong. You have to buy AppleCare, or some other aftermarket insurance you hopefully won’t need and definitely shouldn’t have to pay for. Your phone’s ability to survive a spilled drink shouldn’t be worthy of Lil’ Wayne’s time, Samsung’s ad budget, or all that wasted bubbly. It should be like its they are able to make phone calls–every phone should be waterproof. Why aren’t they already?
It’s obviously good for consumers to have more phones that they are able manage a drizzle. But the instance for waterproof phones is also remarkably easy to make to manufacturers. At least, that’s what Simon McElrea, CEO of electronics-waterproofing company Semblant, tells me. It’s simple economics: A lot of phones get returned, he tells,” and at the least half of that return rate is damage .” Preserving a return and mend infrastructure is expensive, so if you have fewer mends, you make more fund. Plus, as the usable lifespan of a smartphone get longer, companies can refurbish and recycle devices as long as they continue to work. Even as they make new phones, McElrea tells,” 95 percent of the components are the same generation to generation. You upgrade the processor, maybe a new version of the memory, but just about everything else is the same .” The longer those parts proceed with its work, the more days you are able to re-sell them for more money.
@pierce borrowed a fancy waterproof camera for videos while snorkeling. After 30 minutes in the ocean, realise my phone was in my pocket.
— Mark Bramhill (@ mcbramhill) August 31, 2016
Semblant makes a nano-coating that’s designed to keep electronics safe from water, rust, and more. Whereas Samsung, Sony, and others try to ruggedize their phones by essentially shellacking them shut the route you’d seal your bathtub, Semblant tells bring on the water.” You know water’s going to get into ,” McElrea tells.” And it’s not pure water. The only day it’s pure water is in those silly tests .” A lot of days, moisture can ruin a phone without you ever doing anything wrong; it’s just the result of chemistry and day. McElrea’s favorite demo is to use nitric acid: It will eat through the phone, the table it’s on, and the floor beneath, but merely sits beaded like drops of water on top of a Semblant-coated smartphone.( It’s a good demo .)
Semblant’s technology is already being put into a million phones a day from a variety of manufacturers, McElrea tells, the majority of members of whom don’t tout the feature. They don’t want to announce their waterproofness, lest they have to cover it in the phone’s warranty. But it’s there. McElrea won’t talk about who his customers are, except to say ” there aren’t many left” to get on board. If that’s true, it’s good news–it doesn’t mean your phone’s abruptly running scuba diving with you, but it means it’ll take a lot more to hurt it than a little fall of rain.
@pierce dropped it in a lavatory while exceedingly hungover
— Matt (@ gamoid) August 31, 2016
McElrea has plenty of incentive to downplay the current seal-it-with-glue waterproofing, of course. But Kyle Wiens, founder of iFixit( and occasional WIRED contributor ), tells the challenges of that approach are precisely the reason your phone isn’t already waterproof.” If you look at what kills phones over a five-year lifespan ,” he tells,” you’re going to have to open the phone once or twice during that life and swap out the battery. And the process of doing that, and re-sealing it with the gaskets and stuff like that, is pretty challenging .”
Not only that, that kind of seal is hard to pull off in the first place.” Waterproofing isn’t just dipping it in wax, and presto, it defies water ,” Tseng tells. And both Wiens and McElrea note the difference in fabricating quality between, say, a high-end watch and a smartphone.” With a Rolex ,” Wiens tells,” if you open it up and put it back together it’ll be waterproof again. A lot of days it’s just more precision machining .” That’s hard to do at massive scale, especially at the costs phone makers are trying to hit.
OK, so waterproofing is hard. At least, it’s hard the route manufacturers are currently approaching it. Everyone I spoke to says seals are a hacky, brute-force answer, but ensure enormous potential in ruggedizing not the phone as a whole, but each part individually.” The more compelling solution that I’ve seen ,” Wiens tells,” is maybe doing waterproofing more at the component level, saying it’s OK if water get inside the device. There are microfilms that you are able to coat the board with that they are able to waterproof the board .” He doesn’t mention Semblant by name, but that’s what Semblant is doing.
@pierce Dropped my phone into a bowl of Pho right in front of my papa. He didn’t notice though. He was in mid bite
— Keith Lee (@ costcosample) September 1, 2016
Waterproofing the insides is also what Apple is doing, at the least if you believe rumors and patent filings. The company applied for a patent in 2014 encompassing” methods for increasing moisture resistance of electrical components ,” and may have use some of that tech in the surprisingly-resistant 6S. Component of its logic for removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 is reportedly that it induces it easier to seal the device as well. Perhaps if the next iPhone is also resistant to water and Coke and every other liquid, Tim Cook will talk about it. And you can bet that if Cook get on stage next week and dunks an iPhone 7 in a bowl of water, waterproof phones will be everywhere in an instant. Thumbs crossed.