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Saturday, October 1, 2022

It’s 2022. Why Don’t We Still Have Waterproof Phones?

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While manufacturers have successfully increased the water-repellent nature of smartphones, they are far from being “waterproof”. A water-repellent product is usually resistant to water ingress to some degree, but a waterproof product is (intended) completely impermeable to water.

Last week Samsung was Australia fine of A$14 million by the Australian Federal Court for making false statements in advertisements about the water resistance of its Galaxy phones. The tech giant admitted that submerging Galaxy phones in pool or seawater can damage the charging ports and cause the phones to stop working if they are charged while still wet.

Similarly, Apple was fined in 2020 €10 million (about A$15.3 million) in Italy for misleading claims about iPhone water resistance.

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It is common for phones to get damaged when dropped into water. In a 2018 US survey, 39% of respondents said they dropped their phone in water. Other surveys have had similar results.

So why is it in 2022 – a time when technological marvels surround us – that we still don’t have waterproof phones?

Waterproof vs Water Resistant

There is a rating system used to measure the resistance of devices to solids (such as dust) and liquids (namely, water). This is called the Ingress Protection (IP) rating.

An IP rating has two numbers. In a rating of IP68, the 6 refers to protection against solids on a scale of 0 (no protection) to 6 (high protection), and 8 refers to protection against water on a scale of 0 (no protection) to 9 (high protection ).

Chart showing the International Electrotechnical Commission's IP Rating Guide
The International Electrotechnical Commission is the body behind the IP rating guide.
International Electrotechnical Commission

Interestingly, the water resistance rating benchmark varies between manufacturers. For example, Samsung’s IP68 certified phones are: water repellent to a maximum depth of 1.5 m in fresh water for up to 30 minutes, and the company warns against use at the beach or in the pool. Some of Apple’s iPhones with an IP68 rating can be used for up to 30 minutes at a maximum depth of 6 m.

Still both Samsung and Apple probably won’t consider repairing your water damaged phone under their warranties.

In addition, testing of IP ratings is performed under: checked laboratory conditions. In real-life scenarios such as boating, swimming or snorkeling, factors such as speed, movement, water pressure and alkalinity all vary. Measuring the level of water resistance of a phone thus becomes complicated.

How are phones made water resistant?

Making a phone water resistant requires several components and techniques. Usually the first point of protection is to form a physical barrier around all entry (entry) points where dust or water could enter. These include the buttons and switches, speakers and microphone outputs, the camera, flash, screen, phone case, USB port and SIM card tray.

These points are: covered and sealed using adhesives, adhesive strips and tapes, silicone sealants, rubber washers, gaskets, plastic and metal meshes and water-resistant membranes. Then a layer of ultra-thin polymer nano coating is applied to the telephone circuit board to repel water.

Nevertheless, a phone’s water resistance remains to shrink over time as components age and deteriorate. Apple admits water and dust resistance are not permanent features of its phones.

Phone is flushed in a toilet bowl
Many people drop their phones down the toilet – be careful!
Shutterstock

Cameras aren’t completely impervious to water, but some can tolerate submersion a lot better than smartphones. Often this is because they are relatively simpler devices.

A smartphone has a lot more functionality, which means that internal components are more sensitive and fragile and must be built into a smaller housing. All these factors make it doubly difficult to afford phones a comparable level of water resistance.

Add water resistance to phones too raises their price for consumers (by 20% to 30%, according to Xiaomi’s co-founder). This is an important consideration for manufacturers – especially since even a small crack can invalidate any waterproofing.

Keep devices dry

Apart from nano coating on the internal circuit boards, applying water-repellent coating on the outside of a phone can increase its protection. Some businesses working on this technology for manufacturers.

Future Phones could also have circuits fabricated directly on (waterproof) silicone material using laser writing techniques and further coated with water-repellent technologies.

For now, however, there is no such thing as a water resistant phone. If your phone is on the bottom of a pool or toilet and won’t turn on, make sure you take the best steps to make sure it dries out properly (and doesn’t get damaged further).

You can also buy a waterproof case or a dry pouch if you want to make your phone completely waterproof for water activities.The conversation

This article by Ritesh ChughAssociate Professor – Information and Communication Technology, CQUniversity Australiahas been reissued from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article

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