If you’re not sure if your phone
is waterproof, you are not alone. Because to begin with, waterproof
phones don’t really exist. Waterproofing is a little bit of a myth. It’s never possible to completely keep water out of something. So when the manufacturers say water resistant they mean when they sell it to you it will repel water most of the time. So how are phone manufacturers making that happen? The answer is a little anticlimactic. It’s usually a bunch of glue and some gaskets. Basically you have to close off every hole and make it so water can’t get inside. So starting with the biggest hole,
it’s where the screen fits in. Obviously you can close that one off with
a lot of adhesive, a lot of glue. It’s got these waterproofing gaskets around the edge, so all the way around the edge of your iPhone is an adhesive gasket and you can see this gasket is less than a millimeter wide. It goes all the way around the edge. There’s the SIM card opening and that’s usually done with a rubber ring around the SIM card opening. Now there’s some holes in the phone that always have to be there like the charging port or the microphone holes. And those are sealed from the inside of the component or have a water resistant mesh placed between the speaker or the microphone and the outside of the hole. It’s only in the last few years that features like this have become relatively standard for new phones and the amount of water resistance is defined using something called an IP code. I remember working on one of the first tablets. At that point they were only doing what they call IPx1 or x2 and it’s just dripping rain. That was it. And then I remember about four years ago. I was starting to get calls from all around the world to do IPx7 testing. The first phone that Apple sold that was advertised as being water resistant was the iPhone 7 but we saw up to two years ahead of that signs that Apple was working in that direction. This was before companies were coming out and actually saying it had an IP rating. What we think was happening was they weren’t confident enough to advertise the feature but they basically made the iPhone 6 and 6s to be water resistant. The ‘IP” in IP rating stands for “International Protection” or sometimes “Ingress Protection.” It’s a set of standards defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission, or IEC, and this standard was first defined in 1976. So at one point people sat together and they decided well how can we measure if something is water resistant. And they came up with a battery of tests that can be compared from one country to the next to say, well this device is to that degree water resistant or to that degree resistant to ingress of dirt or dust. So a device’s IP rating tells you how resilient something is to intrusions like dust or water. Because calling something waterproof or resistant isn’t all that useful if you don’t know exactly what that means. Is rain okay? Can it be underwater? How deep? For how long? That’s part of what an IP code tells you. The first number tells you about protection against solid particles. The second digit deals with liquids. If there’s an X instead of a number it just means that part of the test wasn’t performed or it isn’t relevant to the device. We’ll talk about dust first, right. The typical one for phones is IP6x. You sprinkle dust on it. You suck a vacuum, just to see if you can attract dust. There shouldn’t be any dust inside. The water test. There’s IPx7 and IPx8. This is a simple IPx8 rig. The difference between those are IPx7 is basically one meter for 30 minutes, and IPx8 is anything that exceeds IPx7. So technically if I soaked it for one meter for 31 minutes I’d be IPx8. Apple has said IPx8 for them is defined as two meters for 30 minutes. Samsung also says they do IPx8 and they define it as 5 feet. Which is better? It’s not necessarily clear. One drawback of the way these devices are currently made to resist water is that as a result of making it difficult for water to get inside the outer shell of the device it’s also difficult for you to get inside the phone when you actually want to. It does make your phone much harder to repair. Replacing a screen or a battery, after a repair the phone won’t be water resistant anymore. And it’s also much harder to get inside in the first place. But with water resistance it’s much harder for water to get inside of your phone which means it’s probably going to last longer depending on which situation your phone encounters during its lifespan. While companies like Apple and Samsung are shipping millions and millions of these devices, they’re still relatively new to making things water resistant. The way that the Apple Watch is waterproofed is they basically glue the screen onto the metal body of the watch. And the glue that they use is on this gasket which actually doubles as a Bluetooth antenna and it’s a gasket that goes all the way around the edge of the watch. I took this watch design to a master watchmaker who had worked on Rolexes for decades and he laughed at this design. He said this is crazy, Rolex would never do something is chintzy as this. So we have decades, maybe 100 plus years of experience waterproofing small devices and watches generally do a really good job of it. But I think the mass manufacturing techniques that Apple and other smartwatch manufacturers have gone towards leaves you with a lower quality waterproofing than what you would get in a Rolex. If you have a device that doesn’t have an IP rating that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not water resistant. GoPro for example, known for its waterproof cameras, doesn’t advertise an IP rating for them. But if the last few generations of phones are any indication we’ll probably see the water resistance of these things continue to improve. Apple’s AirPods for example are not IP rated but it’s widely expected that their second generation will have some kind of official water resistance. There’s this thing about specmanship, right. So you want to be better than the other guy. And so you say, well I do this, and I do this and sometimes it may not matter in the end for the phone anymore. Hey, I’m IPx8 now. I’m two meters 30 minutes. Well, I am too. I’m five feet, one hour. I got more time. I think the next big improvement in water resistant is going to be adding the hydrophobic coating to the surface of the board itself. Then some iPhones in particular we are seeing this rainbow sheen effect on the outside of circuit board. And what that is is a very, very thin nano coating that’s being applied to the circuit board to actually waterproof the board itself. So previous approaches are trying to waterproof the outside of the phone to prevent water from getting inside. This is actually waterproofing the board so if water does get in here you’re not going to get corrosion. One question all this brings up is whether or not phone manufacturers are being fair in the way they market water resistance. The manufacturers are being completely honest on the day that they sell you the device. It is water resistant then. But they’re completely dishonest when it comes to the lifecycle of the phone. You think about how they are when it comes to batteries. No cellphone manufacturer is telling you, “Hey you buy your phone and the battery lasts 18 months, you need to swap it out. Oh and by the way we won’t sell you a new battery. You have to take it in to us for service.” And it’s the same thing with the waterproofing. They’re not saying, “We sell you a phone that’s waterproof but it’s only gonna last for a few months.” They should be. So all said and done. Here’s how to think about your water resistant phone. So I’ve taken apart a lot of phones, seen the inside, seen how they all work together and the waterproofing involved and the consensus, the conclusion that I’ve come to is to not trust any of the water resistance that I’ve seen. So if you’ve got a brand new phone and you want to go swimming with it I think you’re perfectly fine doing that the first week that you own the phone. After the first week or so I would start to get nervous. Over time the glue is gonna degrade, the rubber is gonna degrade. Dropping your phone can make a little incision in the rubber, something that water can slip inside. I wouldn’t trust it completely. I would give it a maybe on it. I wouldn’t do it. Not for my phone anyways. The other thing is that the insurance doesn’t cover water damage and so if you go in and six months in you say, “Well you sold me a phone that was waterproof and I’ve got water damage,” they’ll say “Well that’s not covered.” You’ll say “But you told me it was waterproof.” “Well normal wear and tear can degrade the waterproofing.” So I would say absolutely the waterproofing is a nice insurance policy but don’t take showers with your IP67 phone. Which is not what the device manufacturers want me to say but it’s the truth.