iPhone 7 and the potential for waterproofing

Last spring Apple shipped the first Watch, which is officially water resistant and unofficially water proof for short depths and durations. Last fall Apple shipped the iPhone 6s, which — completely unofficially — is resistant to splashes and has even been shown surviving dunks. Repeated rumor has it, the iPhone 7, expected this September, will be water resistant. Officially. But, what does that mean?

Water resistant vs. water proof

Apple Watch under water

Apple Watch under water (Image credit: iMore)

The Apple Watch is technically water resistant rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. That, according to Wikipedia, means:

  • Immersion up to 1 m
  • Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion).
  • Test duration: 30 minutes
  • Tested with the lowest point of the enclosure 1000 mm below the surface of the water, or the highest point 150 mm below the surface, whichever is deeper.

Apple achieved that rating by using gaskets and seals to protect all the sensitive components inside. And gaskets and seals can only do so much.

Even so, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook talked about showering with it, and developer Craig Hockenberry, swimming with it.

That's because what's legally required on product labeling isn't the same as what's possible in the real world. Like "best before" dates, it behooves companies to be conservative.

Water resistance and phones

Samsung's Galaxy S5 had the same rating and achieved it by using similar methods, including a little flap over the MicroUSB port. They've come a long way since then.

My colleague, Andrew Martonik, recently wrote about the IP8 water resistance rating on the new Galaxy Note 7:

The Galaxy Note 7 shares a common platform with the Galaxy S7 edge, and that means bringing over one of its best features: an IP68 water resistance rating.The "8" part ... refers to just how much water the Note 7 can handle, and for how long. In this case, it's the same story we see over and over with lots of mobile devices: you can submerge the Note 7 in water up to five feet deep for up to 30 minutes.

Water resistance and the iPhone

Apple believes the iPhone should only include the barest of essentials — the features that will be used, day in and day out, by almost everyone. Anyone who wants a rugged case or a battery extension, the company feels, can add one if and when they need it.

That why the iPhone 6s, even though Apple never announced it as a feature, includes the same kind of water resistance as the Apple Watch. There's a new gasket inside that slightly bigger 7000 series aluminum bezel, and silicone seals inside. No IP rating has ever been given for it, but customer testing has shown it to possess pretty much what you'd expect from the 6 rating.

That's enough to prevent accidental exposures. And it prompts the question — do we need more?

Water proofing and the iPhone 7

Let's set some reasonable expectations. I wouldn't count on taking your iPhone 7 deep-sea diving or leaving it at the bottom of the pool all summer. Apple will still make the barest of essential cores and leave more rugged, more occasional use features to accessory makers like Lifeproof.

Apple likely won't add the significant bulk required to bring the iPhone 7 to liquid ingress protection rating of IP8. If the company could take the water resistance already found in the iPhone 6s and make it official, that would be a great start. Perhaps Apple could also employ some form of superhydrophobic nano-coating — one that meets the company's eco-friendly standards — to improve things even further.

Samsung has already shipped IP8 water resistance in all of its 2016 flagship phones. So, some level of official water resistance is rapidly becoming table stakes.

Would you like to see water resistance or water proofing in the iPhone 7? What kind and to what rating level?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.