Waterproof iPhone 5 Wackiness

A new coating technology — tested on an iPhone — purports to seal a smartphone so well that it can go swimming. But how did this publicity stunt become a viable rumor for the iPhone 5?

Over the course of time that I’ve written on this blog, I’ve heard numerous commenters make their share of witty comments about zany rumors. Usually it goes like this: “Yeah, and the next iPhone will do my laundry,” or “Yeah, and the next iPhone will give psychiatric advice.” (Actually, with the evolution of Siri, you never know).

When I saw a rash of new rumors of a waterproof iPhone 5 pop up, it reminded me of the (much wittier) above-mentioned quips from the much saner readers and commenters of this blog, and how the rest of the iPhone 5 rumor mill didn’t seem to get the joke. In case you missed it, here are a collection of headlines from syndicated tech sites: “Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5 To Be Waterproof?” (Mobile Magazine), “iPhone 5 Will be Waterproof?” (International Business Times), “Samsung and Apple looking at new waterproof smartphone tech‎” (Pocket-Lint). That last one has enjoyed the “highly cited” tag on Google News.

In case you missed it, there’s this video — a publicity stunt by Zagg (and a very effective one at that) — to promote a new kind of synthetic coating that can virtually seal an iPhone’s internal hardware to the point where it can keep water from getting inside the chassis. The video managed to spur a viral media movement (as in bowel movement — or maybe bowl movement is more like it, but more on that in a second) that let to this flurry of articles.

Let’s get the synopsis right from the horse’s mouth — The Daily Mail – who says the following: “The new ‘nanotech’ spray coating  is applied to the circuitry inside phones and lets you dunk phones entirely underwater, and still takes calls.” The Mail gives this rumor the “real newspaper” treatment, citing completely unfounded claims like “Up to a million phones are water-damaged every year worldwide,” and “Fifty-two per cent of UK smartphone users who have water-damaged their phones admit to having done so by dropping them down the toilet.”

Really? “Up to a million?” So, that could be a million smartphones, or, like, seven.

And regarding the other statistic — that “Fifty-two per cent of UK smartphone users who have water-damaged their phones admit to having done so by dropping them down the toilet” — seems like it’s in the wrong article. Shouldn’t that be included in the whole U.K. Public Drinking Problem Issue article set?

All kidding aside, I don’t doubt that dropping your smartphone in the toilet or having it otherwise ruined by water is a real drag. And if smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung could fortify their products’ ability to withstand and repel moisture, no one would argue that it would be a bad thing. But to imagine that these two smartphone giants are necessarily going to make a waterproof iPhone 5 or Android phone a major focal point in 2012 is crazy. The fact is, the source of these reports is the video itself, which in its own right is impressive: to see an iPhone get dunked in water and continue to function is a sight to behold, and precisely the kind of thing that makes geeks really excited (excited enough to imagine that this will be a pressing feature for the iPhone 5). But it does not constitute a reliable source.

I for one would not put a lot of stock into this report as a viable rumor for the iPhone 5. First, as you can probably read parenthetically from my sarcasm and mirth surrounding the whole toilet thing, I don’t think that Tim Cook loses sleep at night at the “up to a million” people worldwide who drop their smartphone in the potty. In fact, Mr. Cook, knowing how committed iPhone users are to their phones, is probably lobbying the toilet industry to widen the bowl diameters in order to increase submerged iPhones, leading to secondary purchases.

Second, it remains to be seen how practical this new technology is. Assuming that the iPhone 5 will continue to not give access to the battery as others have not, it is by definition a good candidate for such a sealant. But the sealant apparently coats the actual interior components — not the chassis itself. So, while after spending six minutes in your bathtub, your iPhone 5 will still work just fine, but you’ll hear water sloshing around in the chassis for the next six months.

And what about the cost? Would it be worth adding production costs to the iPhone 5 for this sort of sealant? How about just not putting your iPhone 5 near water sources?

By Michael Nace



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