It was a long time coming. Making the iPhone 7 water resistant was almost obligatory on Apple's part, given that some of its Android rivals have been highly water resistant for some time.
Even so, depending on how clumsy you and your family are around water, you might want to buy a protective case and an insurance policy to protect the minimum $649 (for the iPhone 7) or $769 (for the iPhone 7 Plus) investment you're making.
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Apple's new phones carry an industry-standard water resistance rating of IP67, meaning that they supposedly can withstand immersion in up to 1 meter (a little more than 3 feet) of water for 30 minutes.
But phones in Samsung's Galaxy S7 series are rated at IP68, meaning that they are specced to survive the plunge to a slightly greater depth of 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes. Earlier this month, Sony announced another IP68-rated phone, the Xperia XZ. However, Sony hasn't yet announced U.S. pricing or availability for its high-end Android phone.
Although Apple wanted to provide some water resistance in the iPhone 7 for competitive reasons, Joseph Steinberg, CEO of SecureMySocial, suggested to Techwalla that Apple "wasn't concerned with delivering anything spectacular in this regard."
Apple's Earlier Water Resistance
Apple actually began to introduce water resistance to its smartphones last year in the iPhone 6s series, according to Annkur P. Agarwal, cofounder of Pricebaba, a product research startup specializing in mobile phones.
"A lot of the iPhone 6s series' internals were water resistant already, and selling millions of those devices must have given Apple a good data set on how they fared with real consumers (without announcing the capability)," noted Agarwal, in an email to Techwalla.
"Was Apple forced to get this tick box because Android phones have it? Well, certainly there was pressure since the last two years or so. But was it something that was causing iPhone sales to drop? No."
The previously released Apple Watch 1 is rated at IPX7, meaning that it isn't dust resistant but that it offers water resistance equivalent to that of the iPhone 7 series. Apple claims that the new Apple Watch 2, introduced alongside the iPhone 7, is water resistant to a depth of 50 meters—a more spectacular spec, although smartwatches from competitors such as Casio are already water resistant to that depth.
The Demise of the Audio Jack
Regardless of competitive pressures, Apple put off adding IP67 water resistance to the iPhone for as long as it did because the change was expensive, according to Erik Bowitz of Lightning Cans, a blog dedicated to Lightning-equipped headphones and earbuds.
The addition of water resistance helps explain why Apple dropped the analog headphone jack with the iPhone 7, Bowitz said. The headphone jack would be "a massive ingress point for water," he told Techwalla.
Extending Your iPhone Insurance
Despite the phone's water resistance, the limited one-year warranty that accompanies models in the iPhone 7 series provided through AppleCare specifically excludes damage from "liquid contact"—as well as any other types of accidental damage—from its coverage. You can, however, get insurance that does cover water damage and other accidental damage, from a provider such as Asurion or SquareTrade, or through Apple's own Apple Care+.
With the introduction of the iPhone 7 series, Apple has changed its AppleCare+ pricing policies for all iPhones, starting with the iPhone SE. Previously, iPhone owners paid the same flat rate (on top of the subscription price) for fixing any kind of damage to the phone. Now, if you buy an AppleCare+ subscription, you'll pay only $29 to repair screen damage, but $99 for any other sort of damage. The policy covers up to two incidents per year. The two-year AppleCare+ subscription price for the iPhone 7 series is $129.
Asurion offers insurance to customers who buy iPhones and other smartphones from major carriers like Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. Pricing varies by carrier and tends to be much steeper than Apple Care+. However, all policies cover loss, theft, water damage, and other types of accidental damage.
SquareTrade provides insurance coverage directly to consumers for water damage and other accidental damage to laptops and mobile devices. Pricing for smartphone coverage is $89 for one year, $149 for two years, and $179 for three years, with a $99 deductible. Like AppleCare+, SquareTrade doesn't cover loss or theft. On the other hand, unlike Apple Care+, Square Trade covers older phones as well as newer ones.
With the Apple Watch 1, Apple expanded the one-year AppleCare limited warranty to two years—but again, product malfunctions due to water damage or other accidental damage are not covered. Apple Watch policies are also available through AppleCare+. While the Apple Watch 2 and iPhone 7 won't be available until September 16, SquareTrade has already announced an Apple Watch insurance policy priced at $59 for two years of coverage.
The Case for a Case
The iPhone 7 should be able to withstand a light splash of water while you're on a boat or dock, or a smooth slide off the rim of a bathtub or swimming pool. But if you drop it into a mud puddle in a concrete gutter, or even into a pool, the shock may cause the phone's water-resistant seals to break. For that matter, the screen might break, too.
"A waterproof case is still recommended," said Brian Rozycki, a manager in AT&T's wireless department.
"When something is rated to IP67 standards, what it really means is that a device will resist water for up to the pressure of being stationary under 1m of water for 30 minutes. When moving through the water or impacting with it, the pressure can be a lot higher than simply being immersed in it. It might survive, but it also might break a seal, and at that point you probably will need a new phone."
If impact resistance is important to you, you might want to check out so-called "ruggedized" phones such as Caterpillar's Android-based CAT S40. List-priced at about $400, this IP68-rated phone has survived tests involving repeated 6-foot drops onto concrete. You won't get the high-resolution screen and sleek styling of an iPhone or a Galaxy, or extra features such as dual cameras. But the CAT S40 might be good a good companion on a camping or fishing trip.
As for the iPhone 7 series, people will buy protective cases regardless of the phone's water resistance, experts say. "The primary motivation is ... not so much spill protection [but preventing] the display [from] shattering," according to Agarwal.
"Users will definitely still be purchasing protective cases, partly because they don't want to scratch their devices—especially the scratch-prone gloss black version—and partly because adding cases is just a fun way to personalize your iPhone," Bowitz observed.
Now that the iPhone 7 series is almost out the door, vendors are introducing new protective cases. Cases from Lifeproof, for example, are supposedly both drop-proof and waterproof. LifeProof has announced cases for the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, priced at $89 to $99, although these new cases aren't yet available at this writing.
Other protective cases, such as those in the Defender lineup from Otterbox, are touted as drop-proof but not water resistant—though you get some water resistance in the iPhone 7, anyway. Otterbox has already started selling Defender cases for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, priced at $60 apiece.