Why Apple’s New iPhones Are Not Really ‘Secretly Waterproof’

Ken Ishii/Getty Images

Ken Ishii/Getty Images

Since Apple’s new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus made their debut at Apple stores and finally made it into the hands of Apple fans who preordered them, a number of videos have surfaced in which reviewers subject the new phones to all kinds of tests and torture to determine, rather unscientifically, how much abuse they can take.

It’s a mostly harmless phenomenon, since nobody other than YouTube stars in search of views would voluntarily drop or otherwise abuse a new iPhone. But a dangerous side effect of these videos is that many news outlets are now claiming that Apple’s latest iPhones are secretly water-resistant or even waterproof, thanks to limited results of tests conducted in anything but real-world conditions.

Zach Straley was one of the tech reviewers to “water test” the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. In an initial video, he activates the stopwatch on each iPhone and gently places each at the bottom of a bowl of water. Thirty minutes elapse as the stopwatches continue counting, at which point Straley removes the phones from the water to test their functionality, then places them back in the water. At 45 minutes, they still seem functional, even when activating the 3D Touch feature. After an hour elapsed, the phones still seemed to retain all functionality.

In a follow-up video, Straley updates viewers on the status of the phones 48 hours after they spent an hour underwater. The TouchID fingerprint sensor still functions, the speaker is “working great,” the Lightning port still works, and the headphone jack is still functional. The “only casualty” of the test was a diagonal line across the screen of the iPhone 6s, which didn’t appear to meaningfully obscure the app icons on the home screen.

Another channel called EverythingApplePro also investigated whether Apple’s new iPhones are waterproof, but got very different results. In that test, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were also gently submerged in a vessel of water. The phone displays stayed on, though 3D Touch, rather predictably, didn’t work underwater. After 10 minutes, the screen on both phones is still responsive — though only after a slight delay for the iPhone 6s Plus — and both phones still charge and still recognize headphones, though the speakers’ performance is noticeably degraded.

After 20 minutes underwater, the displays still work. The speakers work, though are much quieter than usual. The camera systems, Lightning port, WiFi, and cellular signal still function. Between the 20 and 30-minute mark, the phones are moved around underwater, and shaken to remove as much air as possible. After that point, the backlight begins to flicker on both phones, and visible lines appear on the screens. The iPhone 6s Plus crashes and restarts, and at 28 minutes, the iPhone 6s crashes as well, and isn’t able to turn back on when removed from the water, even connected to power. By the end of the test, the iPhone 6s Plus is also dead.

Other videos testing the hypothesis that the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are waterproof include TechSmartt’s test using a glass pan, in which the iPhone 6s Plus survived a 30-minute submersion. Another is iDeviceHelp’s waterproof test, in which an iPhone 6s is submerged in a swimming pool under 4 feet of water. After one minute, the phone had some touchscreen issues. After two, the screen began to give out. Then phone then turned off, and wouldn’t reboot. Two hours later, the phone was dead and couldn’t be revived.

While the disparity in results is interesting, it should just be taken as more evidence that you shouldn’t assume your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus is waterproof, or even water-resistant. In most of these videos and in others like them on other YouTube channels, the phones are generally placed gently under water, without the force that would be exerted if you were to actually drop your phone in water. It’s easy to envision how gingerly placing a phone at the bottom of a bowl of water makes it less likely for greater quantities of water to enter the phone than dropping it into the same amount of water.

Additionally, the deepest vessels of water used for these tests appear to be big enough to put the phones under only a foot, at most, of water, with the exception of the odd swimming pool test (which the phones fail). That means that the phones used in these tests avoid the greater pressure that would be exerted if a phone fell to, say, the bottom of a bathtub or a swimming pool. The upshot? Apple’s new iPhones probably aren’t secretly waterproof, or even water-resistant. If you drop your phone into water, you’ll likely be able to revive it if you immediately retrieve it and then put it in some rice or cat litter. But if you dive into the pool with your iPhone tucked into your pocket, don’t expect it to be so easy to revive.

While Apple seems to have improved the water resistance of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus over last year’s models, they’re not meant to be submerged for an extended period of time at depths of even a few feet. While you can probably take your iPhone out in the rain or accidentally spill something on it and expect it to survive, it still isn’t built to withstand bigger accidents.

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