Water has long been the sworn enemy of electronics. Hundreds of dollars of beautifully designed, high-performance technical gadgetry becomes nothing but a useless hunk of plastic, glass and metal when faced with the awful power of a shallow puddle or a spilled cup. But now the tide is changing; new devices are being created with durability in mind, built with the means to fight off the threat of water damage.
Until now we’ve pretty much just relied on conventional wisdom to avoid water damage. Don’t use your iPad in the tub. Don’t pull out your phone in a thunderstorm. It’s simply been a fact of life that electronics aren’t allowed in certain conditions, and we work around it. This method hasn’t been 100% successful, as selfie sessions in the bathroom mirror sometimes end with phones dunked in the toilet, and heavy rainstorms find their way through our bags and pockets to invade our devices.
Now and again a waterproof device has emerged, but never on the real flagship devices, and never really kicking off a trend. But as of now there are two major manufacturers prioritizing water resistance on their biggest devices, and that’s a trend I can get behind.
Last year Sony decided it was going to waterproof its flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z1, and at the Mobile World Congress this year they’ve announced that they are sticking with it, waterproofing the successor Xperia Z2 as well as its tablet counterpart, along with their fitness wristband, the Sony Smartband.
Likewise, Samsung briefly dipped their toes into water resistance last year with the Galaxy S4 Active, but this week they’ve announced a much more significant commitment by including water resistance in the default Galaxy S5 model, as well as their whole new line of Gear smartwatches.
Will the trend continue?
While it’s clearly picked up a little bit of steam, that still leaves big manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola, LG, HTC, and Apple. We should be urging them to follow suit. Water is 70% of the Earth’s surface, after all, we have to drink it all the time to avoid dying, and the stuff regularly just falls out of the sky on us in large quantities. It certainly seems that this is a hurdle we need to deal with.
The problem with waterproof is that people have lived for so long without it, they don’t think they need it. Water resistance gets shrugged off as a pointless marketing gimmick; after all, who actually uses their phone around water? No one. But who knows what we’d be doing if we weren’t afraid of breaking our $500 dollar phones.
If the prospect of a more durable device attracts enough people, then the trend will certainly continue. The fun part starts once people begin to experiment with how our electronics can interact with water. I’m no app entrepreneur, but maybe someday we’ll have an app for snorkelers that can identify exotic reef species, or an app that helps swimmers improve their form. At the very least, people need to realize that reading an ebook in the tub is awesome.
This is one area where the trend will definitely continue. Wearables have to be water resistant if they hope to earn a place on our bodies. People just won’t be willing to strap a $150 gadget to their arm if it gets destroyed the moment someone spills a drink on them. I expect fitness wearables to be the most resilient, so that people don’t have to worry about breaking their expensive toy when they fall in the mud, or track their performance in an entire triathlon.
Even if most smartphones aren’t going to be joining us in the pool any time soon, it looks like wearables will, and there’s a close relationship between wearables and phones. Even if your phone stays in your bag, you’ll be able to read incoming texts on your smartwatch, for instance.
So what’s the opportunity here?
Well. Apps for smartphones that push notifications to smart wearables will continue to be important. Fitness wearables will continue to rely on great smartphone apps for completing the UX. In the farther future, our phones will become reliably resistant to water and dust, meaning people will be more comfortable using their phones while cooking, doing yardwork, home maintenance, or in inclimate weather.
This kind of change will make mobile even more beneficial for our everyday life—as amazing as mobile technology is today, it is being held back by the fact that devices remain fragile and expensive. Waterproof devices open a new era of mobile in which users don’t need to be hesitant about how they use technology. Once that underlying fear of ruining our phone is curbed, mobile devices and apps will have even more ways to assist and entertain us in our day-to-day life.
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