We now live in an age where the two most popular flagship smartphones in the world are water resistant. While that may be incredibly comforting to know next time your iPhone 7 or Galaxy S8 takes an unexpected swim, that doesn’t mean they’re impervious. If liquid gets in, there’s always a chance something could go wrong. Besides, water damage isn’t covered in either phone’s warranty.
You’re not satisfied with the status quo, and fortunately, neither are smartphone manufacturers. Companies are always experimenting with new ways to make devices stronger and safer, and this patent from Apple, published Thursday, is a perfect example.
Speakers and microphones are naturally easy points of ingress for water into a phone. The acoustic chambers are exposed to the outside world, meaning liquid can always get in. Apple’s patent aims to curb that vulnerability with a twofold approach.
The first is a hydrophobic coating on the speaker grille, that repels water. That is simple enough to understand, but the second part of the equation is where things get a little more interesting. According to the patent, Apple proposes lining the inner side of the grille with a hydrophilic coating to accelerate the removal of water out of the device, and using a sensor within the acoustic chamber to determine the presence of any liquid.
The “sensor” could take the form of a pressure, moisture, optical, or audio-sensitive module, that could signal to the device that water has passed into the phone. According to the patent, Apple might then outfit the array with a specially designed speaker that would blast an audio pulse inaudible to the human ear, sending the water back out the handset the same way it came in.
It’s important to note that while patents are never a guarantee of features that will hit the market in any reasonable time frame, some elements of this particular application are actually commonplace now.
For example, most modern smartphones come equipped with an oleophobic coating over the display, to keep smears and smudges off the surface. And many third-party companies produce hydrophobic solutions you can spray onto your handset, that claim to repel liquid to such a degree that they make your phone almost waterproof.
Meanwhile, the audio pulse to expel moisture has actually been featured most recently in Apple’s Series 2 smartwatches.
The patent has a date of filing of January 18, 2017. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were Apple’s first smartphones certified as water resistant, each with an IP67 rating — meaning they could withstand being submerged in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. None of the features mentioned in this patent have been rumored to arrive in the upcoming iPhone X, due either later this year or in early 2018, according to recent reports.
Article originally published on 05-05-2017 by Adam Ismail. An earlier version of this article did not account for the Apple Watch Series 2’s use of audio pulses to expel water from the watch’s speaker; it has since been corrected.