Your Next Smartphone Could Be Safe from Rain and Toilets

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

If a powerful smartphone can make you feel superhuman, one splash of water on that phone can feel like kryptonite. Fortunately, future smartphones may not be so vulnerable to water damage, thanks to several waterproof and water-repellent technologies working their way into phone makers’ manufacturing lines.

Three companies that offer these technologies say they’re either negotiating or working closely with phone and tablet makers, and they expect to see water resistance as a standard feature for mobile devices within a year.

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“We’re working with virtually all the big names,” said Nick Rimmer, Applications Director for U.K.-based P2i. The company’s nano-coating technology already appears in Motorola’s Droid Razr phone and Xoom 2 tablet, where it’s marketed as “splash-guard.” Rimmer expects water repellent phones to become ubiquitous “within months.”

P2i isn’t the only company that offers protective coating for phones. At the CTIA trade show last week, Salt Lake City-based HzO showed off its own nano-coating by dunking a few modified phones and tablets underwater (see above photo). Like P2i’s technology, HzO’s “WaterBlock” is a protective coating applied to the device’s internal components. It freely lets water inside the phone, but the water doesn’t cause any damage when it hits the device’s innards.

“We are working with all the major electronics manufacturers worldwide, and they are looking into building this into next-generation models,” HzO CEO Paul Clayson said in an interview. He expects devices with HzO coating to appear on the market later this year, or possibly in 2013.

Unlike P2i and HzO, a third company called Liquipel sells its services directly to consumers for a handful of devices, starting at $59. Kevin Bacon, Liquipel’s co-founder and co-president, said the company draws its repellent solution through the device without taking it apart, and claims that it won’t void the user’s warranty.

But Liquipel is also in talks with device makers about building the water repellent into new phones and tablets. Although the company hasn’t named its partners, a report from FoxNews.com claims that Liquipel is behind the water-resistant technology in Fujitsu’s upcoming phones and tablets. In an interview, Bacon said he expects the technology to be ubiquitous within a year or so.

All three companies have unique pitches for device makers. Liquipel says its solution is the least expensive to implement, and works with removable pieces, such as the battery. P2i says it requires no design changes from manufacturers, and claims that it already operates on the largest scale of any company. HzO’s coating is highly water-resistant–hence the long-term submersion on display at CTIA–but its competitors say electrical currents don’t transfer through the coating, and therefore requires a labor-intensive masking process.

Regardless of who’s best, the presence of three companies vying for the same business bodes well for the future of waterproof phones and tablets. My main concern–one that none of the companies will talk about–is how much it will cost to include water resistance in the manufacturing process. But if device makers are showing as much interest as these companies claim, those manufacturers may be willing to absorb the cost in hopes of marketing a less damage-prone phone.

“The main challenge,” Bacon said, “is growing fast enough to keep up with the business.”

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