The year is 2022. What happened to waterproof phones

Even though manufacturers have enhanced the ability of smartphones to repel water, they still do not qualify as 'waterproof'. It is generally possible to resist water penetration to an extent with a water-resistant product, but a waterproof product is (meant to be) completely impervious to it.

In an advertisement for its Galaxy phones, Samsung Australia has falsely claimed that the phones are water-resistant. The Australian Federal Court fined Samsung Australia A$14 million for its false claims.

When wet, Samsung Galaxy phones can corrode the charging ports and stop working if they are submerged in water or submerged in salt water. A similar fine of €10 million (about A$15,3 million) was levied against Apple in 2020 for misleading claims about the iPhone's water resistance.

Phones are prone to get damaged when dropped into water. 39% of respondents to a 2018 US survey said they dropped their phones in water. Similar results have been reported in other surveys.

How is it possible that in 2022 - a time when technological marvels are all around us - we still don't have waterproof phones? The resistance of devices to solids (like dust) and liquids (including water) is measured by a rating system. The IP rating measures this resistance.

There are two numbers on an IP rating. Generally, IP68 ratings range from 0 (no protection) to 6 (high protection) for protection against solids, and from 0 (no protection) to 9 (high protection) for protection against water.

Water-resistance ratings vary between manufacturers, and the benchmark varies as well. Samsung's IP68-certified phones, for instance, are water-resistant for up to 30 minutes in freshwater.

But the company warns against using the phones in the pool or at the beach. The IP68 rating of some Apple iPhones allows them to be submerged for a maximum of 30 minutes at a maximum depth of 6m.

Still, it is unlikely that either Samsung or Apple will consider repairing your phone if it is soaked in water. In addition, IP rating testing is conducted in a controlled laboratory environment.

Speed, movement, water pressure, and alkalinity all vary in real-life scenarios like boating, swimming, and snorkeling. The level of water-resistance of a smartphone is therefore difficult to determine.

To make a phone water-resistant, several components and techniques must be used. It is typically necessary to form a physical barrier around all ingress (entry) points where dust or water might enter.

In addition, there are buttons and switches, speakers and microphone outlets, the camera, flash, screen, phone enclosure, USB port, and SIM card tray.

To seal these points, glue, adhesive strips and tapes, silicone seals, rubber rings, gaskets, plastic and metal meshes, and water-resistant membranes are used. The phone's circuit board is then treated with an ultra-thin polymer nanocoating to repel water.

As handsets age and deteriorate, their water-resistance can still be reduced. According to Apple, its phones are not permanently resistant to water and dust.

Water can damage some cameras, but others are more resistant than smartphones to submersion. They're typically simpler devices, so they're more resistant to submersion.

Because smartphones have a greater number of functions, their internal components are more sensitive, and fragile, and must be housed in a smaller housing. Because of all these reasons, phones with a similar level of water resistance are incredibly expensive.

The addition of water resistance increases a phone's price for consumers as well (by 20% to 30%, based on Xiaomi's co-founder). Even a small crack can invalidate any waterproofing - this is an important consideration for manufacturers.

The exterior of a phone could also be water-repellent if there is nano-coating on the internal circuit boards. The technology is being developed for manufacturers.

Using laser writing techniques, future phones could also have circuitry fabricated directly onto water-resistant silicone and then coated with water-repellent technologies.

However, a waterproof phone is not available. Make sure your phone dries out properly if it finds itself in a pool or toilet and isn't turning on. A waterproof case or dry pouch can also waterproof your phone completely for swimming.

For more stories like this

Explore our website