Time for Smartphones to Toughen Up?

Samsung and Sony Could Make Waterproof Mainstream

Xperia_M2_Aqua_lCall it the GoPro effect, or perhaps it’s the talk of hardened screens and metal casings. Smartphones are constant companions exposed to the same elements as their users, and consumers now expect to be able to use their devices under most conditions. The demand for robust handsets has increased.

This week, Sony unveiled the Xperia M2 Aqua, a water- and dust-proof smartphone based on the company’s mid-range Xperia M2. The M2 Aqua is IP65/68 compliant, meeting international standards for protection from dust and water. With the port seals in place, the phone can withstand jets of water up to 12.5 litres per minute and can be immersed “up to 1.5 metres” for up to 30 minutes. This is enough to protect against most accidental splashes and spills in the home or office.

Sony is driving these robust features across its portfolio, in its high-end devices and now its mid-range — the company’s Web site is filled with photos of smartphones and tablets covered by beads of water and users snapping photos in the pool. It’s a wet world and Sony believes that protecting users against the elements and their own mishaps is more than a niche. The company isn’t shy about using the term “waterproof” to describe many of its devices, and it’s a tough claim.

Samsung is also using element resistance as a marketing feature. Samsung’s high-end Galaxy S5 family is IP67 certified. The S5 is dustproof and can be submerged in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes. It can also withstand “rain, sweat and tears” according to Samsung’s site, in a more subtle claim than Sony’s, though the ability to legitimately use photos of droplet-covered screens could be useful at point of sale.

CCS Insight believes that water resistance is a trending feature in smartphones and tablets. Levels of protection will vary and won’t always be clear to users, but basic resistance to moisture from accidental spills and submersions will become a common feature in high-end and mid-level smartphones. Surveys have shown that a high percentage of smartphone users have damaged a device through water exposure, proving the trend could be more than a gimmick for peace of mind.

However, manufacturers will need to be careful about their claims and terminology. “Waterproof” is an easily misunderstood term that could lead to a rush of warranty claims from confused customers. Phones might be splash-proof and bath-proof but not deep-dive compatible, for example. Media attention for thin-coat technologies like those from HzO, Liquipel and P2i is raising awareness of the potential of protection, but also complicating warranty matters in many cases.

Competition in the smartphone and tablet markets is getting tough and will get tougher. Device makers should prepare to offer protection to their customers.