Have no fear later this year if your phone drops in the drink

Companies at Mobile World Congress are showing off coatings that protect expensive smartphones not just from splashes but also full immersion.

Liquipel showed an iPhone treated to survive full immersion in this tray of water at Mobile World Congress.
Liquipel showed an iPhone treated to survive full immersion in this tray of water at Mobile World Congress. Stephen Shankland/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Later this year, some people should be able to buy mobile phones you can take into the shower.

So forecast two companies specializing in waterproof coatings for electronics, HzO and Liquipel, that are showing off their technology here at the Mobile World Congress. There's a certain shock value to seeing high-end Apple and Samsung phones swimming in the drink, but if the companies get their way, you might be able to read an e-book in the bath fearlessly without having to put your iPad in a Ziploc bag first.

Phones with Liquipel coatings "should be on the market in eight months or sooner," said Liquipel President Danny McPhail.

And from a few booths away, HzO Marketing Director Rick Peterson adds, "We're very optimistic it'll be alter this year."

Neither company will say which handset makers will use their coatings, but given how fatal a tour de toilet can be for a $600 mobile phone, it's not hard to imagine it'll be a desirable feature. And, one hopes, affordable.

"It's less than a cheap pair of earbuds," Peterson said.

Liquipel also is angling for partnerships with manufacturers, but in addition it coats people's products with a one-day turnaround for $59.

Ruggedness has been a big trend with cameras and camcorders, but mobile phones--carried everywhere and much harder to live without--are in some ways a better candidate for waterproofing.

HzO had a bowlful of underwater phones with timers showing how long they'd been in the drink at Mobile World Congress. Obscured behind the hand is a Samsung Android phone with its battery hatch cover removed.
HzO had a bowlful of underwater phones with timers showing how long they'd been in the drink at Mobile World Congress. Obscured behind the hand is a Samsung Android phone with its battery hatch cover removed. Stephen Shankland/CNET

HzO and Liquipel showed off their technology at CES earlier this year and say electronics can remain underwater for hours in their lab tests. Another company in the market is NeverWet .

Liquipel's McPhail said it take 30 minutes for its coating to be applied; Peterson says HzO's process takes 110 minutes, but it's got equipment that lets it be applied to 1,000 devices at a time.

"You have to do 5,000 a shift to keep up," Peterson said. McPhail said Liquipel can sustain production rates of 15,000 a day, too.

Service is tricky. Peterson said repair staff who replace components can use a spot treatment technique to maintain waterproofing even if components are switched out, though.

A waterproof tissue would make a lousy product for Kleenex, but it's a good demonstration of Liquipel's waterproof coating. If you poke the tissue underwater, your hand stays dry.
A waterproof tissue would make a lousy product for Kleenex, but it's a good demonstration of Liquipel's waterproof coating. If you poke the tissue underwater, your hand stays dry. Stephen Shankland/CNET
 

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