Apple researching device waterproofing via vapor deposition, silicone seals

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2015
A U.S. patent application published on Thursday reveals Apple is actively researching ways to make its products resistant to moisture, a feature sometimes attributed to "active" smartphone models marketed by competing smartphone manufacturers.


Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's filing for "Methods for shielding electronic components from moisture" outlines a process for coating sensitive device components using advanced vapor deposition technology and protecting solder leads with silicone seals.

Instead of sealing off the entire device housing like a common wristwatch, Apple proposes coating integral components, like the printed circuit board (PCB), with a hydrophobic coating. Depositing the coating via plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD) would create an acceptable insulating layer to protect against short circuits that occur when high voltage parts are exposed to liquid.

As described by Apple, the PACVD process involves charging the surface of a given substrate, in this case a device's PCB, before placing the device in a vacuum chamber filled with a fluoropolymer gas. When a voltage is applied to the gas, it turns into plasma and ultimately settles on and adheres to the charged substrate.

According to the application, the layer can be between one and ten microns thick, a plus for small form factor portable devices with little internal room to spare.




The process can be used to coat exposed surfaces on fully assembled devices, but internal structures like electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding might restrict deposition on critical components. This shielding is necessary for almost all Apple products and can be found in iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and more.

To overcome this obstacle, the document suggests small openings be disposed in the EMI shield, just above sensitive electrical components located on the PCB. In some cases, the holes can be made large enough to let plasma in, but small enough to restrict passage of EMI, keeping the cage's integrity intact.

Other embodiments provide for larger openings in the EMI shield. In these cases, the perimeter around an opening can be masked with tape during the PACVD process. Removing the mask and covering the opening with a metal tape patch -- in electrical contact with the unmasked shield portion -- restores the cage's protective properties.




Other components susceptible to water damage are board-to-board connectors left uncoated. The document specifically notes that solder leads can protrude out of a connector's fitting, opening it up to corrosion and short circuit events. To prevent the leads from moisture ingress, silicone seals can be applied to the receptacle side of a given connector and mating flex cables.

It is unclear if Apple will employ more aggressive moisture protection in future products, but as the company moves into the wearables industry with Apple Watch, consumers may come to expect a certain level of waterproofing from its devices. Apple Watch itself was designed with at least a minimal level of splash resistance, as CEO Tim Cook recently revealed it can be worn in the shower.

Apple's waterproofing patent application was first filed for in March 2014 and credits Nicholas G. Merz, Scott A. Myers, Gregory N. Stephens and Joseph C. Poole as its inventors.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    oneof52oneof52 Posts: 110member
    How is this different than Liquipel?
  • Reply 2 of 16
    Seems like a less than satisfactory solution.

    Even if you protect vulnerable parts in this manner, you will quickly degrade the parts due to water damage.

    Much better to stop the water getting in in the first place.
  • Reply 3 of 16
    oneof52 wrote: »
    How is this different than Liquipel?

    That's like asking what's the difference between brushing paint on metal and electroplating metal. This is more like electroplating.
    Seems like a less than satisfactory solution.

    Even if you protect vulnerable parts in this manner, you will quickly degrade the parts due to water damage.

    Much better to stop the water getting in in the first place.

    Thank you Mr. Engineer for explaining this to us.
  • Reply 4 of 16
    I'm sure the process varies but the concept is no different than what Motorola has been doing on some of its phones.
  • Reply 5 of 16
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,191member
    And this after Samsung dropped the waterproofing/resistance on their latest, the S6.
  • Reply 6 of 16
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    This is good news. Given the enormous market share that Apple enjoys, it needs specialized models. It already has two different screen sizes. A Sport model would be a plus, as would an Extended Life model with a much longer battery life.

    Apple's been silly in the past. It has devoted a lot of attention to an iPhone's appearance, but because it offers one one or two models, users are forced to hide Apple's clever design inside a ruggedized or extended-battery case. With its Otter Defender case, I like to joke, my iPhone 5 looks more like a targeting computer for a USMC sniper than something from Apple.
  • Reply 7 of 16
    waterrocketswaterrockets Posts: 1,231member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    And this after Samsung dropped the waterproofing/resistance on their latest, the S6.

     

    Yeah, that was a strange move for them. I wonder if it was a heat problem or something.

     

    My current phone is my first water resistant phone. It's so much nicer on my training rides now that I don't have to give rain a second thought with my phone in a jersey pocket. I would think every manufacturer would be moving this direction.

  • Reply 8 of 16
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,191member
    Yeah, that was a strange move for them. I wonder if it was a heat problem or something.

    My current phone is my first water resistant phone. It's so much nicer on my training rides now that I don't have to give rain a second thought with my phone in a jersey pocket. I would think every manufacturer would be moving this direction.

    They cut out a LOT of "features" in the S6, making it far more similar to the iPhone than before, undoubtedly to trim costs. They still haven't announced pricing on this thing and if it's even a dollar over the cost of the iPhone, Android defenders will have zero excuses to not buy an iPhone instead.
  • Reply 9 of 16
    pscooter63pscooter63 Posts: 929member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Inkling View Post



    Given the enormous market share that Apple enjoys, it needs specialized models. It already has two different screen sizes. A Sport model would be a plus, as would an Extended Life model with a much longer battery life.



    Apple's been silly in the past.

     

    Come on.  Apple did not get where they are by pandering to niche markets.  I'll take their version of "silliness" any day.

    /rtr

  • Reply 10 of 16
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,998member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PScooter63 View Post

     

     

    Come on.  Apple did not get where they are by pandering to niche markets.  I'll take their version of "silliness" any day.

    /rtr




    Depends on the niche market.  They certainly have a track record for doing work to make Macs support the creative arts (graphic design, audio engineering, filmmaking, etc), all of which are niche markets when compared to the mainstream consumer market for computers.  So I'd say that they are selective when it comes to niche markets.

     

    I think it's more a matter that they haven't found a compelling reason for why you'd carry your phone with you into a pool (or similar).  They generally don't like to spend engineering effort to support scenarios which they feel are nonsensical.  But perhaps such activities make more sense now that they're introducing a watch...

  • Reply 11 of 16
    waterrocketswaterrockets Posts: 1,231member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post





    They cut out a LOT of "features" in the S6, making it far more similar to the iPhone than before, undoubtedly to trim costs. They still haven't announced pricing on this thing and if it's even a dollar over the cost of the iPhone, Android defenders will have zero excuses to not buy an iPhone instead.

     

    Well, there's OS preference...

  • Reply 12 of 16
    inkling wrote: »
    This is good news. Given the enormous market share that Apple enjoys, it needs specialized models. It already has two different screen sizes. A Sport model would be a plus, as would an Extended Life model with a much longer battery life.

    Apple's been silly in the past. It has devoted a lot of attention to an iPhone's appearance, but because it offers one one or two models, users are forced to hide Apple's clever design inside a ruggedized or extended-battery case. With its Otter Defender case, I like to joke, my iPhone 5 looks more like a targeting computer for a USMC sniper than something from Apple.
    This is no reason for a separate model(its internal upgrades). So it's rather possible.
  • Reply 13 of 16
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,282member
    Try vapor dispersion.
  • Reply 14 of 16
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by waterrockets View Post

     

     

    Yeah, that was a strange move for them. I wonder if it was a heat problem or something.

     

    My current phone is my first water resistant phone. It's so much nicer on my training rides now that I don't have to give rain a second thought with my phone in a jersey pocket. I would think every manufacturer would be moving this direction.




    I read somewhere that someone from Samsung said the metal frame made it very difficult to seal them and make them watertight.  Perhaps they will put the screen and hardware in a toughened active model at a later point as they have done previously.

  • Reply 15 of 16
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by auxio View Post

     



    Depends on the niche market.  They certainly have a track record for doing work to make Macs support the creative arts (graphic design, audio engineering, filmmaking, etc), all of which are niche markets when compared to the mainstream consumer market for computers.  So I'd say that they are selective when it comes to niche markets.

     

    I think it's more a matter that they haven't found a compelling reason for why you'd carry your phone with you into a pool (or similar).  They generally don't like to spend engineering effort to support scenarios which they feel are nonsensical.  But perhaps such activities make more sense now that they're introducing a watch...




    Why use an extreme and silly case like a pool?  Does it not rain much in Toronto?  It rains quite a bit here in Ireland and I hear it does in Vancouver also.  Rain, snow and other varied forms of precipitation are not niche events, they are significant facts of life in many places and affect large numbers of people.  Some camera manufacturers like Olympus don't see water resistance as 'niche' and go to lengths to provide equipment that can operate in near any environment effectively. 

  • Reply 16 of 16
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,998member
    A bit late on this (busy week), but anyways, I've dropped my phone in a snow drift and used it briefly in the rain without any problems. The current state of the iPhone is good enough to handle brief contact with water in my experience. This type of waterproofing is only required for complete submersion or extended periods of exposure.
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