Apple has Invented a next-gen smart Stand-Alone Water Detector for Apple Watch & iPhones that could support Extreme Sporting
Apple's iPhone 13 provides water resistance at an IP68 rating and a tom's guide report this week gave it the highest marks for a water-resistant smartphone on the market today. Coincidentally, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple on Thursday that relates to sensor technology, and, more particularly, to a next-gen stand-alone water detector with an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) membrane architecture to possibly take water resistance to a new level for future iPhone and Apple Watch users. Technically, the new technology could support Apple moving into the extreme sporting market.
Although there isn't a realistic IP rating for the iPhone above IP68, there is another water rating system known as ATMOSPHERE (ATM) that Apple may be eyeing. Here, there are 3 notable ATM ratings definitions for 5, 10 and 20 as follows:
Akin to 50 meters below sea level, a 5 ATM spec. is the standard definition of water resistance and is perfect for diving into the pool, swimming, showering, walking in the snow or rain and even fishing as it can endure water immersion for fairly long periods of times. However, high-speed water sports and scuba diving is where a 5-bar watch draws the line.
The resistance only gets better higher up the scale as is evident by now with the 10 bar (100 meters below sea level) proving a step up from its predecessor. It is built for taking to the waves i.e. surfing, snorkeling and is your best bet at a good swimming companion. In a nutshell, such a rating basically means that the watch thrives in almost every sort of elevated water resistance.
The world’s best chronograph watches often have this level of ATM, as they are built for the active watch wearer. Read more about it in our comprehensive guide on chronograph brands.
Often touted as the diver’s setting, the 20 bar (200 meters) is tailored specifically for skin diving and high-speed sporting. Usually, the rating is 125% above the specified rating as the manufacturer also takes into consideration the added pressure resulting from movements by the diver that in turn increases the turbulence acting on the watch. 20 ATM watches are also meant for professional marine activity with the watch often embedded with a “Diver” tag so as to specifically outline its purpose. However, for mixed gas or deep-sea diving, it is of the essence you get the go-ahead of a professional before use.
In November 2020 Patently Apple covered a granted patent from Apple that described a future iPhone that could better support water resistance at a higher-than IP68 standard to one that could meet the wishes of users that want to enjoy water sports like surfing, wakeboarding, rafting and more.
Then came a rumor from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman last June claiming that Apple was considering entering the extreme sports market. This would require a higher water resistance level than available today. While Apple's latest patent doesn't delve into sports, it does provide a mechanism that could clearly take the water resistance levels for the iPhone and Apple Watch to a whole new level.
Patent: A Smart Stand-Alone Water Detector
Today, wearable devices use gel-filled sensors to survive increasingly more stringent reliability requirements such as dust, sand or other debris exposure. These devices, however, are vulnerable to pressure errors due to a number of factors including orientation sensitivity and capillary pressure errors due to water in the gel surface. The use of ePTFE membrane or mesh instead of gel can provide environmental robustness, but the membrane and/or mesh is prone to water occlusion.
Gel elimination by using an ePTFE membrane or mesh to provide environmental robustness is possible, but the membrane and/or mesh is prone to water occlusion.
It should be emphasized that the water detector of the subject technology is a stand-alone design that can be integrated in many different ways into a host system or device. In some aspects, replacing the ePTFE material with the system barometric vent material could negate the need for water detection to be part of the lightning-cable interface. In addition, this could be further extended to any sensor that needs to interact with the outside environment.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram illustrating an example of a system #100 using a stand-alone water-detector device #120 with an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) membrane that could be used in future Apple Watch and iPhones. The apparatus #110 includes a port #115 that is protected from water occlusion by the device (#120).
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The stand-alone device can be used to replace a system-level venting membrane to provide the system with more contextual awareness into its current state, which would allow it behave in an intelligent manner (alert user, shutdown, etc.). In addition, the stand-alone device could be used in other devices such as speakers or microphones to provide contextual awareness to run a water-ejection tone or tune-driving and sensing parameters based on water-log state (i.e., gains, filtering, etc.).
Engineers and technical enthusiasts could dig deeper into Apple's invention details by reviewing patent application 20220099513.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.