Skip to main content

How I drowned my fiancé's iPhone 7 Plus on vacation

iPhone under water
iPhone under water (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have been out for just about two months now. In that time, I've dunked at least seven or eight of the phones under faucets, in lakes, and into fountains — all in the name of science. In that time, I've never seen an iPhone so much as reboot as a result of water exposure. But despite all that, the device isn't waterproof, and Apple itself counsels against using it intentionally near or in water (opens in new tab).

I suppose it was only natural, then, that the first time I used an iPhone 7 Plus for "fun" underwater photography, it immediately died. The worst part: It wasn't even mine.

Great photography… with a $99 catch

Every year, my fiancé and I go visit his parents down south for Thanksgiving; while the food and family is always appealing, we also get a hearty helping of pool and beach time before returning to a New England winter.

What better time, then, to at last test out the iPhone 7 with underwater photography? I'd taken some video in the course of our iPhone 7 review and my Apple Watch adventures, but most of our shooting locations had murky water with few true camera opportunities. A clear-blue pool, on the other hand…

Everything started out swimmingly: On day one, I brought my own 7 Plus into the pool for a few silly selfies and Live Photos with no ill effects. But disaster struck on day two — my iPhone 7 Plus fell out of my pocket on the way to the pool onto concrete, which cracked the display.

Surprisingly, the crack wasn't terrible: Between the Jet Black finish and Apple's new build quality, I only wound up with a small white abrasion on the lower left corner of the phone. But a crack is a crack, no matter how small, and it effectively beached my iPhone from further underwater adventures. (The last thing you want is water seeping into a crack in your screen.)

But hey — my fiancé had just purchased an iPhone 7 Plus two weeks earlier! I'd just use his for my rear-facing camera tests. Five minutes later, I'd tucked my iPhone safely into my shoes and brought his rose gold phone to the steps of the pool. He and his relatives were practicing underwater handstands — short of a dolphin appearing in the pool, it was likely the coolest shot I could get this vacation.

I waited until they began another handstand attempt, then brought the phone underwater for its first adventure, and fired off a few bursts of them balancing. Perfect.

But as I brought the phone back up for air, I noticed something rather alarming: Air bubbles escaping from the right side of the screen.

Uh-oh.

I immediately took the phone out of the pool and returned it to our belongings, dried it off, and played the loudest song I could think of to empty any water droplets from the speakers.

But it was too late: The iPhone's ten-second exposure to water was to be its downfall. Ten minutes later, the screen had a water leak; within an hour, the Taptic Engine had shut down; and by the next day, even after burying it in rice, it looked more like a multicolored piece of art than an iPhone 7.

And that's how, on Black Friday, we ended up at an Apple Store to replace the poor thing. Happy Thanksgiving!

Splash-proof vs swim-proof

Officially, the iPhone 7 series has been road-tested to survive a dunk of up to 30 minutes in three feet of water — the same resistance as the original and Series 1 Apple Watch, in fact.

Like the watch, the iPhone's eventual weakness is in its rubber gaskets: They wear down over time, and all it takes is one imperfect seal to bring down the whole device.

Before our misadventure, I'd tested enough Apple Watch models and iPhone 7s to feel pretty confident with Apple's water resistance assessment — I wasn't going to take my iPhone on any scuba-diving attempts, but I felt fine dunking it for a picture or two.

But there's a reason Apple's taken to branding this sort of water resistance "splash-proof" Just because the iPhone can theoretically go underwater doesn't mean you should take it on a seaside adventure.

As we learned this week, the water-blocking gaskets aren't the only things that can fail on an iPhone. The internal rubber seal on the iPhone 7 Plus's screen is vulnerable, too, especially if it hasn't been properly seated.

My fiancé's phone was brand-new and in a case — it had never been dropped or cracked, but the internal display seal failed on its first underwater outing. Attempt an underwater dunk if you have ever dropped your phone or had the screen replaced, and the chances of your display seal being mis-seated increase dramatically.

Unfortunately, even if you wind up with a defective model — as we did — Apple doesn't officially cover water damage in its warranty. You'll need AppleCare+ not to pay an outrageous sum to replace your device. Thanks to the phone being covered, it was just $99, but you only get two incidents at that price — drown your iPhone a third time, and you'll be paying half of your original purchase price for a replacement.

The Genius we spoke to did note that one-time drownings were rare; they were sending our phone to Apple's engineering department to dissect and check on the seals, and if one of the display seals was indeed found to be faulty, we might get our money and AppleCare+ incident back. But that's a long shot, and not one I'm necessarily banking on.

My general takeaway from the week's misadventure is this: You can probably use your iPhone in the shower, at the beach, or wash debris off its screen under the faucet with no ill effects. But when you completely submerge it, you're putting stress on every water-resistance gasket in the phone — and if just one of those gaskets fails, you're looking at an Apple Store visit and a costly to very costly repair.

Lesson learned

Much as I've enjoyed taking photos underwater with the iPhone 7 Plus, it wasn't worth the stress of seeing a new iPhone die before my eyes — especially when the phone wasn't mine to begin with. (Sorry, Rick.)

I'm going to cross my fingers that the next iPhone has true "swim-proof" capabilities, but until then, if I want to do any more underwater filming, I'm getting a waterproof case. No point in risking yet another $99 repair.

And besides: There are still plenty of nice shots to take outside the water.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

42 Comments
  • That sucks, at least you had AppleCare though or it would have been a disaster.
  • I don't understand this.... Based on the rating, "The ‘IP67′ certification of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus stands for Ingress Protection. The ’67’ denotes that the new iPhones are fully protected against dust ingress and can withstand being submerged in water for up to 30 mins in 1m depth." http://www.iphonehacks.com/2016/09/iphone-7-ip67-water-resistant-rating-... If it was a defective phone and couldn't meet that standard I'm confused why it wasn't covered?
  • The problem is, a Genius can't tell whether a waterlogged phone was waterlogged because it was in there for five hours, or five seconds. They don't have the tools to check the ingress seals, only whether the liquid damage tape was triggered. So they send it to depot, which then makes the call. I may well get my money back, but better to get the replacement now and pay than wait two weeks on a replacement while they determine if it's covered or not.
  • Ya, I hear ya on the waiting game. It's kind of tough to put that rating on it but not have a way to support it. Especially if they find a seal not properly seated. Which I would imagine is going to be almost impossible.
  • BTW, The headline caught my eye because it was cutoff in my feeder at "How I drowned my fiancé"... :)
  • If the phone was purchased with a credit card, why not use your credit card's purchase protection feature? Should cover within 3-4 months of purchase for loss, theft or damage.
  • I am confused so what caused the problem 1. You dropped the phone and there was a small crack which allowed the water to seep in or
    2. The Phone was defective which I meant there is no crack but water still seeped in when you dunk the phone.
  • Serenity dropped her iPhone on concrete; cracking the display a bit. She used her fiancée's iPhone 7 Plus afterwards and that's the one that died in the water Sent from the iMore App
  • 2 separate incidents: first one was her own iPhone 7 being dropped and a visible crack formed. She never took it into or near water. The second incident was her borrowing / using her fiancé's iPhone 7 (2 weeks old, no prior damage), and water got in despite seals and gaskets.
  • Navigate to https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fc2F4... and scroll to the bottom and read the footnote next to "1". iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are splash, water, and dust resistant and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529. Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Do not attempt to charge a wet iPhone; refer to the user guide for cleaning and drying instructions. Liquid damage not covered under warranty. Specifically the last sentence: Liquid damage not covered under warranty. This was there on launch day...I immediately read this and let friends/family know that were thinking "its impervious to water!". Its not, and Apple just wants you to know they did their best of trying to make it impervious...but they won't stand behind it on warranty.
  • Of course it won't last forever, but we're talking about a phone that is less than 3 months old. Certainly it should last longer than that.
  • In Apple's mind, if you purchased a phone and somehow got it on Launch Day and immediately dunked it into an 8oz glass of water and it died, it does not matter. Zero liability by stating "Liquid damage not covered under warranty". The other wording is just careful Legal manuevering. There's a reason this sentence is the last item in the footnote. Serenity's Genius stating that they would investigate it is their customer service representatives doing their job and then some.
  • Basically an admission that they aren't confident enough in the manufacturing or that the testing for the certification could be repeatable. The Genius Bar did what they almost always do, I don't consider that 'special' unless especially where the phone was drowned at such a young age.
  • There's only so far you can go into making a phone water resistant, unless you're trying to defy physics. Unless you work for the hardware manufacturing team at Apple, it seems perfectly reasonable to me
  • When you put a certification stamp on a product you are guaranteeing that the product meets that spec. If it doesn't and the product was not used in a negligent manor then it should be covered under warranty. No questions asked. It's clear to me from your other responses/posts that Apple could never do any wrong in your eyes. This is the last response I will give you.
  • I'm actually not a fan of Apple (I'm actually 70/30 where Google is the 70). I just know how legality works and that Apple is a master of it. That's all. No arguments here over how thats a dumb thing and that Apple should not make claims it can't back up....just saying that this is how the world works. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • What if it does meet that spec, and the customer wasnt negligent but they nonetheless misunderstood the capabilities of the device? You can't take the iphone 7 swimming. Apple never promised this. The iPhone can survive being submerged to 1 meter for a short time, but this means it has to enter the water without any shock. Imagine I dive into the pool with the phone in my hand. A watch expert tells me that swimming watches rated for 30 meters may not survive the shock of entry. Even pushing the phone around the change the angle you are photopgeahing at can create pressure waves equivalent to a much deeper dive.
  • "...sending our phone to Apple's engineering department to dissect and check on the seals..." I was wondering if this was just "Top Men" rhetoric to give hope, or if they know she is an Apple journalist.
  • I think it's legit, based on my time working for Apple Retail. When I worked there, any time a device reportedly failed out of spec, Apple wanted to capture it and find out why. "My iPhone was water resistant and failed after one splash of water" is not a message the company wants to see anywhere close to regularly. It's also helpful to them to find out where it failed; if there's a common thread with other devices, Apple knows to reinforce those seals in the future.
  • Thanks for the fdbk S. This is the way I think any company committed to continuous improvement would approach things. My own experiences w Apple have been good except for issues relating to polymers in premium ear buds, iOS cables and iPhone 4s bumper all of which were attacked by body oil (no lotions etc. involved) and became gooey, swollen or crumbly. When I called Apple to complain (it usually takes about 2 years for this to happen, little interest is displayed in doing a post-mortem. Note, although it hasn't happened to me, I wasn't surprised to hear the AWS0 backs were coming unglued.)
  • Were you using the volume buttons to take the photos? If so, then you were effectively breaking the seal of the gaskets behind the buttons. You should never press any buttons (volume or power) on an iPhone 7(+) while submerged. This is pretty standard for smart watches as well.
  • cool thx for the info., so the best way to take a picture underwater will be to use the 10 second time count for photo, i guess
  • It's pretty awful that these companies advertise on television the device getting wet, sitting in water. Yet right there, in the warranty "Liquid damage not covered under warranty." It shouldn't be legal to advertise situations that would void your warranty. That's ludicrous. If they are going to claim a IP67 (Apple) or IP68 (Samsung) water resistance rating, then failing to meet the requirements of that rating should absolutely be covered under warranty so long as the device shows no signs of abuse.
  • i take my note7 to beach twice a week to surf and so far it still works awesome under water pics look very good.
  • maybe next time you will use a phone that is better rated for under water use. like the note7. the iphone is only rated at ip67 were as the note7 is ip68 which means it is real underwater device. i use mine just about 2 times week when im hitting the surf. never had and issue with it. best phone i have ever had.
  • What? You are still using a Samsung Note 7? Are you nuts? You aren't just endangering yourself but those around you as well.
  • @Bere Ramirez... Really... the Note 7?? If I'm not mistaken, doesn't that device have other drawbacks though - the main one namely being the battery??
  • On the other hand, the Note 7 has been known to spontaneously combust. Granted, that shouldn't be a problem under water, but if you've got to use your phone both on land and below water you need to weigh the pros against the cons.
  • You probably mean a diff phone and *NOT* the Note 7 as stated. You probably also should check your warranty that regardless of IP rating that the techs won't be able to tell if a seal fails that you were within the IP rating of the device and it was a hardware failure and not abuse by the owner.
  • LOL... nice try... using a Note 7 comes with other problems... like fires. Not to mention that Consumer Reports found that Samsung phones weren't living up to their IP rating. They tested multiple phones and they all failed.
  • Samsung corrected those errors on the initial s7 active phones. Pure defect in manufacturing. I've taken my s7 edge swimming a few times and never had an issue nor was i worried about failure at anytime.
    Also there is still nearly a million Note 7s in the wild and no issues since the second recall. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • You must be completely deluded. Even after the second recall there are still issues, hence why they stopped manufacturing the device.
  • How did you make Apple replace this iPhone as water is not covered by the warranty? :) Sent from the iMore App
  • Applecare+ covers everything (you have to purchase it though)
  • And that is why Lifeproof and other waterproof cases will continue to sell in large amounts.
  • I would say no matter what Apple claims, do not get the iPhone 7 near water unless it is in a waterproof case. Not worth the risk. By the way. Apple Care is not cheap, and paying anything for a defective phone fix is not right. Fight to get your $99.00 back. Sent from the iMore App
  • The key problem is that IP certificate is given upon laboratory test conditions, not real life conditions. Swimming pool water composition, especially chloride can be lethal to iPhone seals, that's why Apple don't tell on anything but splash proof protection. They can't provide a warranty, cause they have no way to monitor what customers would do with their iPhones.
  • This sad story raises a couple of points no one seems to be addressing: 1. You're planning to marry a guy who owns a rose gold iPhone.
    2. Is point 1 actually an issue after you broke his iPhone?
  • Only if he continues to troll me about it after I went and got him a new phone on Black Friday of all days. ;)
  • its a first attempt by Apple on the iphone 7. They'll get better at it. Apple's seriously getting themselves in trouble with AppleCare and "taking care of customers when no one else will" Reason being, if they start doing water proof seals better in future phones, more users will get their phones returned for water damage when the seals break at certain depths... Because Apple bends over backwards for users, they will get free (or reduction) of a new/replacement phone, But, maybe they don't care about that.... after all, they make more money in tax so, i'm sure that will cover the costs.
  • Hey Serenity and Rene, Not sure how much it matters to you, but i have an iphone 7 256 that is possibly another example of Serenity's significant other's phone issue, without the water damage - yet. If you are interested keep reading. If not, well don't :) I got my iPhone 7 flat black model a couple weeks after release. I was really excited. I opened it up outside in sunlight, and immediately noticed that there were some defects that will be hard to describe. At the bottom edge of the phone and along the left side of the phone (below the volume buttons), there were "bubbles" along the edge where the black color was lighter. It honestly looked like the screen and rubber seals were not properly bonded together. I took it to an ATT store, but of course you cannot see these defects unless you are in bright sunlight, so they thought I was nuts. I thought to myself, that i was being stupid. These "defects" were not visible indoors at all, and even in bright sunlight you had to angle the phone in the right way to see the "defects". I figured I was probably being overly fickle, and went about my business. But after reading your article, I have examined how the screen lays against the rubber seal around the screen, and I can see very subtle but obvious imperfections in the way that the screen is bonded to the phone.. My question to you - if you care - is this. Do you want any data or pics from my phone before I take it back to Apple and demand a replacement because of the apparent bonding issue? Seeing the almost imperceptible "bubbles" and the almost imperceptible rubber grommet misalignment is going to make my case kind of difficult, but I will bet a considerable sum of money that if I dip this thing in water that I will quickly see the same issues that your fiancée did. I'm assuming you know how to reach me based on my user account. If you have any interest in getting involved let me know asap before i demand a warranty replacement of my phone (and then no one knows what happened). Thanks. Sent from the iMore App
  • "You'll need AppleCare+ not to pay an outrageous sum to replace your device. Thanks to the phone being covered, it was just $99" Or you could have saved the money spent on AppleCare+ and simply insured your phone by charging your monthly wireless bill to a Wells Fargo Visa card. No annual fee, and your smartphone is covered for damage or theft up to $600 with only a $25 deductible. Not bad for free insurance. https://www.wellsfargo.com/credit-cards/features/cell-phone-protection/