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Friday, February 17, 2012, 12:53 pm PT (03:53 pm ET)

Apple looking to improve water sensors for detecting iPhone damage

Apple has shown interest in detecting water damage on portable devices like an iPhone or iPad through circuitry rather than the current color-coded liquid contact indicators found on existing devices.

The pursuit of a better, more fair and more accurate water sensor was revealed this week in a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider. Entitled "Mechanisms for Detecting Exposure to Water in an Electronic Device," it describes circuit-based methods, including the use of a water-soluble glue, as potentially a better way of detecting water damage.

Apple's filing notes that when a customer attempts to return a malfunctioning product, personnel at the point of sale are sometimes unqualified to properly check whether or not the device has water damage. As a result, customers frequently receive replacements for products that were damaged in methods not covered under warranty.

These erroneous replacements can prove costly to a company, and so Apple has shown interest in devising a better and more accurate way of assessing water damage to its portable devices. Pictured in the patent applications are an iPhone, iPad and iPod.

In one potential solution, Apple describes an "immersion detection mechanism" included as part of the internal components of a device. This water sensor could be covered in a water-soluble conductive glue that would electrically insulate the gap between two conducting pieces.

In the event that an iPhone or another device were to be submerged in water, this conductive glue would be permanently eroded by the water. The system would detect a change in impedance of the path, and would signal an alert to a data processor that would log water exposure events within the device.

Patent


Another potential method described by Apple involves several water sensors arranged and connected as a randomly accessible sensor array. A current can be passed through these conductive paths, and a change in impedance can be detected, which would signal an alert to a data processor that would log potential water damage events.

The application, made public this week, was first filed in August of 2010. It is credited to inventor Timothy M. Johnson.

Patent


Currently, all of Apple's mobile products come LSIs (Liquid Submersion Indicators) or LCIs (Liquid Contact Indicators) that turn from white or silver to a pinkish red when they come in contact with liquid. The sensors are used by Apple to make it easier for its retail store "Geniuses" and third-party repair technicians to determine whether a device has failed as a result of liquid damage, which isn't covered under warranty.

But those sensors occasionally result in false positives, an issue that has led to at least one lawsuit. Apple's proposed invention could be a fairer and more accurate way of detecting water damage.

Apple has apparently shown interest in water-proofing future devices with technology made by HzO. Their product, called "WaterBlock," was shown off at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev.

Officials with HzO indicated that they have been in talks with Apple about using WaterBlock in future devices like the iPhone. In fact, the company used the iPhone 4S, along with iPads and iPods, for demonstrations of their product at the show.