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Indestructible Smartphones Just On the Horizon?

March 31, 2013 - Written By Norman Yan

The world of smartphones is constantly changing and evolving, with new software and hardware developments arising at every turn. We have seen huge advancements made when it comes to hardware, with quad and now octa-core CPUs entering the market and ever more intelligent software features such as Google Now, smartphones have come a long way since the early days of Symbian and Android Cupcake. Despite these steps, the durability of the actual device has not been addressed by many manufacturers. While there are some ultradurable phones such as the CAT B15Kyocera Torque and the Galaxy XCover 2, these phones are both unwieldy and feature below average hardware, typically 4 inch 480p displays and dual-core processors. Fortunately the issue of smartphone durability has not gone on unnoticed, with Larry Page mentioning it is a key area of development for future Google phones.

This is an important issue especially when top end devices could cost in excess of $600 and replacement parts and repairs for replacement screens costing at least $100 on most devices.

Waterproofing Devices

As long as we have had electronic devices, we have also run into the issue of water. Needless to say, water and electronics don’t mix, yet despite the uttermost care of individuals, devices do seem to be subjected to the occasional swim, drop in the toilet, rain or coffee spill. These types of accidents typically can be solved with a night or two in a bowl of rice, however occasionally they can cause irreparable damage to the device requiring replacement. Thankfully, users soon won’t have to worry about liquids getting into and damaging their devices. Sony has already released a flagship device, the Xperia Z that is able to survive one metre underwater for at least half an hour as well as prolong showers. Unlike the previously mentioned devices, the Xperia Z doesn’t feature a disappointing dual-core and 480p display, in fact it features a one of the fastest processors on the market and a 1080p display, so waterproof devices are no longer restricted to bulky, unsightly bricks. There have also been developments in new technology by a company called Liquipel, who use a special coating that is released in a gaseous state that will provide a hydrophobic coating and every surface both inside and outside of your phone, protecting it from water and other liquids. Liquipel has also been developed a new ‘Liquipod’, which allows mobile accessory stores to offer the Liquipel treatment to your device without having to send your device to their headquarters for a coating. This solution is therefore available to current users that don’t have a waterproof phone and will be probably be integrated into the manufacturing process of future devices.

 

Newer Materials

The Screen

The most obvious component of any device that breaks when being dropped is the screen. This large piece of glass is probably the weakest part of the device, and shattered glass not only renders the phone unusable, but is also a cutting hazard if a user tries to use their device with a shattered screen, or when they are simply picking it up after a drop. Even though devices typically have Gorilla Glass 1 or 2, this reinforced glass is designed to be scratch resistant first and foremost, which was the main reason why it was chosen over plastic for the original iPhone. While plastic would prove to be unbreakable, it would leave the screen vulnerable to scratches, so that would be an unlikely replacement. Corning though has claimed to have found the solution with their new Gorilla Glass 3 which uses a new manufacturing process to create a product that is supposedly stronger than aluminium. Another possible avenue would be sapphire glass, which has also been a subject to number of rumours concerning the future of mobile devices. Sapphire glass isn’t exactly a new technology and has been used in luxury watches since the 1970s. Sapphire is around three times stronger and harder than Gorilla Glass, however manufacturers have been reluctant to adopt sapphire, because it costs ten times as much as Gorilla Glass, costing $30 per screen instead of $3, while a price drop is expected in the future, Gorilla Glass will always prove to be a cheaper alternative.

The Body

The body of the device makes up the majority of the device, while it typically fairly resistant to falls, it can still be scuffed and damaged from drops onto concrete. Currently majority of devices use plastic for the main body of the frame, while it is both cheap, light and durable, it both feels and looks cheap. There are of course alternative premium plastics such as polycarbonate and metals such as aluminium, which HTC have used in the HTC One X and One respectively, these materials are still vulnerable to scuffs and dents from drops. Aluminium also blocks out reception, meaning manufacturers have to add multiple antennas just to maintain a steady, consistent signal. Motorola though has taken the lead in trying newer materials with the RAZR series adopting to use bulletproof Kevlar in their devices, while it is doubtful the phone will save your from a bullet, Kevlar is strong, lightweight material that is also fairly resistant to damage. The innovation doesn’t stop there, with the Motorola X Phone being rumoured to utilise carbon-fibre in its design. The future of mobile phones though probably lies in graphene, which is a layer of carbon molecules arrange in a single flat lattice. This lattice can then be arranged into shapes such as a nanotube, which is 117 times stronger than steel while also being just as hard as diamond, which will make it virtually impervious to any mishaps that may happen.

Design

The design of the device also plays a major role in the durability of the device. Clever design allows a device to resistant damage without having to use excess material. The rugged phones that were previous mentioned use large amounts of rubber to shield the device from any potential damage, while it certainly is effective, it is a relatively inefficient method of reducing the damage of impacts, because it adds large amounts of size and weight to the device. The Motorola X Phone has been rumoured to be utilising rubber corners which will act as shock absorbers reducing the force of impacts. There have also been interesting patents regarding the ways to make a device more durable without using excessive amounts of materials, with Amazon having applied for a patent with the use of airbags to reduce the force of the impact. The principle of these designs is to only add material on the most likely contact areas where 99% of impacts will occur.

amazon-airbags

 

Making Your Device More Resistant

While the future developments in mobile are important, future developments and speculation doesn’t have much help to the device you are currently using. Fortunately there are ways to make your current phone more resilient to any potential mishaps.

Get a Case or Bumper

A case or bumper is the first and move obvious area to turn to when it comes to protecting your device. These accessories serve as a barrier between your device and the ground, protecting your phone from potential scuffs and scratches while also helping to absorb the force of any impacts. Cases and bumpers typically protrude from the screen which also helps to protect the screen from the ground since it prevents the screen from contacting the screen. Cases can also prove to be a fashion accessories with a plethora of designs to match any taste.

Screen Protectors

Another important accessory that is virtually essential is the screen protector. With the increasing popularity of smartphones, the range of screen protectors has also increased with clear, matte, mirror dry apply screen protectors, wet-apply polyurethane screen protectors, ones made of glass and even spray-on ones. Screen protectors are designed primarily as a means of preventing scratches on the screen, but they also help to protect your screen from drops. Screen protectors, particularly wet-apply polyurethane ones help to absorb the force of an impact, even if it is a fraction of the force, it might just be enough to prevent cracks. In the event the screen does crack, they also provide a barrier between your hand and the shattered glass, preventing your hands from getting cut thus allowing you to continue using your phone. Screen protectors along of with cases can be purchased at the new Android Headlines store.

Waterproofing

The previously mentioned methods prevent most types of damage, but they typically won’t offer any protection from water. Fortunately there is a relatively easy way to waterproof your phone which we covered previously in the article, Liquipel. Liquipel gives your phone a hydrophobic nano-coating without adding any bulk or any other physical changes to your phone.

Insurance

While this doesn’t technically prevent your phone from breaking, it does offer a means of replacing your destroyed device. I know people with butterfingers where getting an insurance is a must considering how often they damage and break their phones. These days most carrier contracts and some devices offer extended warranty protection or insurance for your device, while these do add to the cost, if you are someone who often drop their device you might want to take a look at this option.