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For The Many, Not The Few: Water Resistance In The Mobile Industry

06/10/2017 13:31 BST | Updated 06/10/2017 13:31 BST

The media spotlight tends to shine most brightly on a limited number of high-end smartphones in the mobile industry. It's easy to understand why; they come from manufacturers who have a significant portion of the global market, and are touted as having the latest 'must have' innovations and features.

What we are now beginning to see from the market leaders, are the number of changes to flagship smartphones beginning to gradually decline. The latest iterations are only bringing tweaks in design rather than wholesale changes to the table. This is to be expected as the trend and rate of innovation had to drop off at some point given the time and resources it takes to innovate and create new features.

In time you would expect these 'flagship' features to make their way down to the lower end of the market, especially water resistance which was applauded as one of the most innovative features in the high-end phone launches last year. But it is certainly a feature that shouldn't be the preserve of the top of the range devices. Technologies that add water resistance to smartphones have been around for more than a decade, however they still aren't the norm, or even available to smartphone users at multiple price points, with a limited number of exceptions.

Great expectations

Consumers though, are now starting to expect a level of water resistance as standard on their mobile phones, partly due to the high-profile launches of devices such as the iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8. As a result, consumer awareness has increased and started to build momentum so the expectation in mid to lower end of the market is creating a shift in demand. Some level of protection will soon be expected on devices to suit all budgets.

As liquid ingress is one of the most common causes of damage to devices, there is a clear need for this technology in the industry. A study from IDC states that the total number of devices shipped featuring water resistance increased 76% year on year in the first nine months of 2016, compared to the previous year. Water resistance is increasingly sought as an essential feature rather than a 'nice to have' for the modern consumer, providing protection against the spills and thrills of everyday life.

Breaking down barriers

There are however, a number of barriers to implementing water resistance technology in mid and lower tier devices:

1) Time; this type of technology takes time to both develop and then get to market, and on average can increase the testing cycle length of a product by 1-2 months and even more if the original design tests fail

2) Cost; mechanical solutions to prevent water ingress such as the seals and gaskets you see on a lot of high end devices are expensive due to the engineering, hardware and design compromises required to implement them

3) Materials; those used to manufacture mid-to-low tier devices do not often suit mechanical solutions such as an 'O-ring', which demand high-strength and rigidity. High-end devices usually have strong metal frames whereas lower-tier ones are usually made of more plastic, which are weaker under strain

Manufacturers and consumers both have a shared goal. They want a quality product regardless of price point, that meets the needs of the consumer.

Nanocoating technology offers a non-mechanical solution to the problems faced by both manufacturers and consumers. It protects the whole device, regardless of the materials and manufacturing scenarios used; are increasingly fast to apply and can drive economies of scale in terms of being able to coat high volumes of handsets in a short space of time. This makes it a much more accessible technology to the lower end of the market.

Democratisation as a process

That of internet access on handsets. A decade ago, the market rapidly changed from having few handsets with this capability (beyond very low functionality WAP), such as high-end devices from the likes of Blackberry, to it being ubiquitously available on pretty much every smartphone.

In a similar vein, Motorola has been offering water resistance capabilities on the majority of its handsets since 2011, yet few manufacturers have followed suit. There has been a paradigm shift now though, and I expect to see more manufacturers rolling out water resistance across their range and a rapidly increasing market share of handset devices at multiple price points.

Future-gazing

With an increased reliance on mobile technology, consumers are always on and in touch with the connected world we live in. Now more than ever, it's never been more important that smartphones are capable of standing up to the rigours of modern day life, and that means that they need to have a level of water resistance. This, coupled with the proliferation of IoT devices, means that water resistance is crucial across a whole spectrum of electronic communications devices.

We're well on the road to the next generation of mobile networks arriving in the form of 5G, but connectivity at the centre, it is as much about the device as it is the network and one cannot reach its potential without the other. Nanocoating technologies provide innovative and inexpensive options to the mobile industry and can be applied across a range of price points, to bring water resistance to the masses.