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iPhone Water Hazard: Tips to Stay Dry

Drop your iPhone into the toilet, fish it out, stare stunned at a blank screen, throw the brick into a bowl of uncooked rice, and pray for the best. The next day, you'll likely have to trudge off to the Apple Store and fork out hundreds of dollars for a new iPhone, because Apple Care doesn't cover water-damage-the number one killer of iPhones.

That's usually how it goes.

Soon, you'll suffer the added indignity of seeing an indicator on the phone change colors. You, an Apple Genius, and the rest of the world will immediately know that you've foolishly allowed your iPhone to take on water.

Last week, Apple was awarded an outside-the-case detection patent that lets users know if their iPhone has water damage. Think of a warning light on your car dashboard that flicks on just before the engine dies. Currently, an Apple Genius has to open up the iPhone to check and see if a strip has a red line indicating water damage.

"I think the patent is more consumer friendly," says Ty Shay, chief marketing officer at third-party warranty provider SquareTrade. "Consumers can't crack open a case, so a lot of times they go to an Apple Store and are surprised to find out a failure is caused by water damage. It becomes kind of confrontational."

Blog: A Shakespearean iPhone Tragedy of Epic Proportions

Most iPhone users have heard about the dangers of water. Stories range from an iPhone sliding out of the back pocket into the toilet to an iPhone ending up in the washing machine. (Want more tales of woe? Check out 5 Strange Ways iPhones Die: Insurer Hears it All.)

A new set of water dangers has been showing up lately, SquareTrade says. Here are a few of them:

  • Not wanting the iPhone plunking into the toilet, people will often place the iPhone on the floor or near the sink-and leave it there. When someone takes a shower, steam can damage the phone. So don't leave it in the bathroom.
  • As summer heats up, people throw the iPhones into beach bags and head to the sand or swimming pool. The iPhone rubs up against bottled water and suntan lotion. If caps aren't sealed properly, liquid can get into the iPhone. Condensation from chilled bottled water can lead to the iPhone's demise, too. Make sure to put the iPhone in a plastic zip-lock bag. Better yet, keep it out of the beach bag, SquareTrade says.
  • When you sit down at a restaurant, have you ever whipped out your iPhone and placed it on the table? Some restaurants are putting warning signs on their menus that they're not responsible for spilling things on the phone. Even condensation from a beverage can drip into the phone. SquareTrade advises not to leave the phone on the table.
  • Many people go to the gym, run or bike with their iPhones, thanks to the arrival of great exercise-related apps. They might simply be listening to music on the iPhone while working out. But if they don't have the iPhone in a water-protective case, sweat can find its way into the iPhone.

Slideshow: 10 Best iPhone Apps for Healthy Living

"People don't realize that the iPhone is very sensitive to humidity, steam and perspiration," says SquareTrade researcher Tavis McGinn.

All of which begs the question: How many iPhones are working fine but have a red line on the strip indicating water has gotten inside and thus voiding the warranty?

SquareTrade's Shay thinks there are a few of these iPhones out there. After researching customer cases, though, SquareTrade doesn't think the iPhone's current water-damage indicator is overly sensitive to the point that it is giving off false positives.

For iPhone users, there's more good news: The iPhone is less susceptible to water damage than, say, Android phones with replaceable batteries, says SquareTrade. A phone with a removable part, such as a plastic lid that pops off, means there are more places for water to gain access to internal components.

So what do you do when your iPhone gets wet and stops working (or, later, under Apple's patent, you see the water-damage indicator change colors)?

For starters, do not turn it on. You don't want to send an electrical charge to wet internal components. One out of five damaged iPhones is caused by water and often requires full replacement because the circuits are fried, SquareTrade says.

Next, stick the iPhone in a bowl of uncooked rice for 24 hours. You don't have to take the phone apart, either. In fact, SquareTrade recommends you don't take it apart. The rice will wick out the humidity, leaving the iPhone bone dry. Once all the moisture is out, go ahead and start up the phone.

"If a lot of people did that, they'd have a pretty good chance of saving their phone," Shay says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

Read more about iphone in CIO's iPhone Drilldown.


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