Waterproof mobiles, MP3s make a splash

Special coating saves tech when you dunk it in the drink

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Next-generation mobile phones could be water resistant, thanks to a patented new technology by British firm P2i.

Ion-Mask is a special coating that makes electronics equipment such as mobile phones, digital music players and PDAs water resistant. P2i is reportedly in discussions with three leading mobile phone-makers to introduce the coating, although the firm wouldn't give us any names.

Repelling water, oil

Phones treated with the Ion-Mask coating will be protected from moisture, rain and "accidental immersion" - briefly dropping your handset in a puddle or sink, for example. Tests have shown that treated phones can be used in wet environments, such as a shower, without damage.

The Ion-Mask coating was developed at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, Wiltshire, and first used for soldiers' uniforms. It gives a device a protective layer using a plasma, a gas that has been electronically charged to repel liquids.

The chemical properties of the layer enable it to repel water and oil, which would otherwise damage circuitry inside a device. The coating will also be used on sports shoes and other equipment in the near future.

This technology sounds like an efficient way to protect your electronic devices from water damage. Rather than cramming your phone into a not-so-attractive and usually bulky waterproof case, the technology will be there from the moment you buy a new phone.

"Mobile phones and MP3 players are too small to be fitted with seals to make them waterproof, so water inevitably can creep in," Ian Robins, business development director at P2i told Tech.co.uk. "By making the surface repel water, we have been able to take devices that fail the normal... shower tests, and make them pass.


Better protection

"Obviously, how waterproof a device is depends on design, but we can ensure that water doesn't seep through joins or small gaps. Some electronics companies want the individual components to be treated too, so they have a much greater level of protection," Robins told us.

He added that the first electronic gadgets to feature the coating will surface sometime in mid-2008.

Water damage is one of the top reasons for insurance claims on mobiles, according to the Daily Telegraph. Some 1.2 million handsets were dropped in toilets, drinks or accidentally put in washing machines last year.

"Most owners are looking for fashion and functionality when they buy a phone, but if it was waterproof too, it could provide a unique selling point," a Carphone Warehouse spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.