Cellphone Water Damage Is A Design Flaw

Dan Lockton’s Architectures of Control in Design has a neat riff on our Save A Wet Cellphone post.

Dan says, “As a designer, I would much prefer to look at the problem as “How can we improve the sealing of phones so that water ingress is no longer a major problem?” than “How can we design something to cover our backs and shift all the blame onto the user for our design fault?”

He adds, “Good designers may fix problems, but great designers prevent problems.”

Unfortunately, none of the latter seem to be in the employ of cellphone manufacturers.


Edit Your Comment

  1. spin_sycle says:

    well of course! you can’t make money off a perfect, well-designed product!

  2. Yes…one has to wonder if a rubber gasket seal between the phone body and the battery plate cover costs more or less than the “water damage” stickers…

    Built in obsolescence.

  3. bndocksnt says:

    This is a growing trend in consumer electronics, especially cell phones. I blame all those folks out there still toting their StarTacs for the “built-in obsolescence” that crayonshinobi refers to. If the phones didn’t break down after a year or so, the companies would be forced to add features we might actually -want- to upgrade to. I have owned a VCast phone for the last six months or so, and not once have I been tempted to watch a movie (or whatever programming they offer) on it. What kind of feature is that? How about the ability to text while using it as an mp3 (excuse me, WMA) player, now that would be a handy feature.

  4. Magister says:

    You can get MP3’s on your Vcast phone. I have the LG VX8300 and I can get them on there without using the Media Player option. Although, it doesn’t let you sort and select music by artist/album/type. Howardforums.com generally has the hints.

    Making something waterproof isn’t cheap. I would love it, but I don’t forsee truely waterproof cellphones in the norm for a long time.

  5. FLConsumer says:

    How ’bout designing a phone so it just WORKS. I went through countless phones last year in an attempt to find one which had good reception, sound quality, decent menus, and is reliable. “Rebooting” a cell phone is NOT an acceptable solution in my book. Screw the toys, I want the bare necessities to work first.

  6. non-meat-stick says:

    It is a tough design. Cellphones use battery power and transfer some of that energy off as heat. If you seal up the phone to make it water proof, the heat still needs to escape. I have heard of splash proof phones, such as kyocera’s KX5 model, popular with the construction types. Nextell did a decent job and I think they may have had a splash proof handset as well.

    How many other electronic devices that we use daily are water proof. Your precious iPod? I think not…

  7. Magister says:

    Imagine the same arguement about your laptop. Non-meat-stick is right, you need to be able to handle heat as well.

    Almost nothing electronic is waterproof… Heck, a watch is a little easier since it generates so little heat.

  8. Geekly says:

    Do you expect your car to run after driving it into a lake? Do you expect your computer to boot after leaving it out in the rain? If you drop your phone in the toilet, why should you expect it to keep working?

    If it were cost effective to design cell phones that were submersible, companies would be doing it? Water resistance does not come for free. The past eight years designing hand held electronic devices tell me this. The phones can certainly be designed to resist water intrusion, but they’d take twice as long to develop and cost 50-100% more to produce. They’d also be bigger. Seals and gaskets take up room. If the cell phone manufacturers identified a market for a “waterproof” phone, they’d be selling them.

  9. notlazyjustdontcare says:

    Are you guys suggesting that phones have to leak because the flow of air through the leaky phone case is keeping it cool? Come on, Shelly.

    I agree with bndocksnt: You should want to replace your phone because a better one comes along, but you should never have to replace it.

    Also, why did they stop putting sidetone in phones? Its absence is why people yell when they talk on their awful Motorola/Nokia phones. Its absence from most phones is why I’m scared to replace my Sony Ericsson.

  10. To all the people out there complaining that “you shouldn’t expect your car to work after driving it into a lake,” etc. If the number one reason cars were being brought to mechanics was because people were driving them into lakes, then your analogy could hold water…as it were.

    The number 1 cause of non-warranty repairs/returns for cell phones is water damage. So significant is this problem, that the cell phone companies have engineered and installed special stickers to indicate water was the cause of the malfunction. Why not spend money on R&D for waterproofing, instead of proving water damage?

  11. DanLockton says:

    I maybe came across as a bit too arrogant with my ‘designer mindset’ quote – there are many excellent designers working for cellphone manufacturers – including a good friend of mine who’ll probably be very amused by this!

    It’s just that, as Crayonshinobi says above, the principle of developing the special stickers in order to catch out customers, rather than solving the problem, irked me, especially in cases where phones may break independently of getting wet, but the warranty is still invalidated.

  12. Geekly says:

    I agree, this is a case where an effort was made to keep consumers from screwing “the company” and in the process, makes it more likely for honest customers to get screwed. There should be a name for this principle, because it happens all the time.

    The people that dropped their cell phones in the toilet a week before the warranty expired so they could get a new phone – they ruined it for everyone.