Sweaty workouts killing iPhones?

One NBC television affiliate in Houston is reporting on consumer complaints that sweat from working out while wearing or handling an iPhone is killing the devices.

David Martin
David Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a programmer, systems and business analyst, author, and consultant.
David Martin
4 min read
iPhone 3G water sensor top Apple

Some iPhone owners are claiming that exercise, while good for you, may break your Apple device. Of course, as with most electronic devices, significant moisture can ruin Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPod. But now, some are saying that water damage may occur during activities as mundane as going for a jog.

This past Monday, KPRC Channel 2 in Houston ran a story during its Ask Amy consumer segment titled Ask Amy: iPhones Sweat Sensitive. (The video segment can be seen here.) In the segment, investigative reporter Amy Davis pursued consumer complaints about iPhones being damaged by sweat. According to Amy's report:

Our cell phones take a pretty good beating. We drop them. Your kids may use yours as a teether. But the Apple customers we spoke with said all they did was take their new phones to the gym.

"I never would've bought a phone if I knew it would ruin the first time I got it out at the gym," Stacie Keneker said.

"They sell all these accessories that you are supposed to be able to use at the gym to make it convenient," Lee Pittman complained.

But "convenient" is the last word Pittman and Keneker said they'd use to describe their iPhone experience.

"I would like a phone that works," Keneker said, holding up her iPhone that constantly resets itself.

"This phone is worthless to me now. It's useless," said Pittman, whose iPhone will no longer let him make calls.

When their iPhones stopped working properly, both said Apple employees told them a moisture sensor on their devices had been tripped.

"It happens all the time," said Pittman, repeating what he said an Apple employee at the Willowbrook, Texas, store told him. "He said they have this issue all the time."

What happens? Apparently sweat happens.

Both Keneker and Pittman use their iPhones at the gym to listen to music or use the calorie-counting fitness applications that actually come with the phone. They said Apple employees told them their sweaty palms are the likely culprit here.

"If this was going to be sensitive enough where you can't use it at the gym, why don't they have a cover there?" asked Pittman, pointing to the opening where the charger plugs into the iPhone.

According to Amy, all calls to Apple public relations were not returned as of press time. Amy asked Apple about whether or not they would make design changes or issue warning to consumers about this problem and according to her, "They didn't answer that question". She was, however, directed to a 28-page product information guide that did little to resolve the issues for consumers she had received complaints from. So far none of these consumers has gotten any relief from Apple.

Nokia small, round water sensor under battery and cover David Martin

I discussed the consumer complaints with Amy and decided that the iPhone failure in one case was probably an honest accident--the user apparently has sweaty hands and tripped the sensor on the bottom of the iPhone 3G. It is hard to believe that this alone would kill the only-three-week-old iPhone. I hope that the Apple Store employees are only voiding warranties if both sensors are tripped, but I was not able to verify this either with Apple.

I realized something else when speaking to Amy about the iPhone and any Apple product with a water damage sensor: unlike on other cell phones, the moisture sensors are very accessible. On most cell phones, the sensors are located underneath a removable battery and enclosed by the cover that usually locked the battery into place. One would suspect that since those sensors were deep inside of the device, that they were better judges of whether or not you dropped the cell phone in a puddle.

In comparison, Apple's sensor (at the bottom of the iPhone) could easily be set off by sweat from your hands. You can see the sensor locations for a iPhone 3G in the photo above and a Nokia cell phone below for comparison.

Concerned about iPhone water damage? Previous iPhone Atlas articles show you how to check your iPhone for water damage and what to do about saving it. Apple even has a knowledge base article about it titled: iPhone and iPod: Water damage is not covered by warranty.

Or, for a very easy solution, make sure to use a good case (like the iSkin Revo2) that covers both the headphone jack and the docking/sync connector. This type of case isn't completely waterproof, but it might help protect the sensor on the bottom of the iPhone 3G--it has so far for me.

Update: You can find additional coverage about this story on CNN.com.