Getting water on your phone's screen isn't always a kiss of death, but in most cases, it's a pain in the neck. Samsung may have a way to get around this in the future as they've licensed a new "superhydrophobic" glass substrate technology from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a division of the US Department of Energy. For now, most of Samsung's latest phones can be used under water, but in a limited capacity. With the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, you're essentially limited to functions of the hardware buttons, such as the camera shutter. With the Galaxy Note 7, you can't use your fingers because the capacitive screen detects touches by way of an electro-cancellation that both water and your finger make upon touching the screen, forcing you to use the S-Pen. Samsung's recently acquired new license could help them to change that, however, and add other goodies to future displays.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is responsible for a number of various research projects related to energy conservation and generation. One of those projects ended up yielding the glass technology that Samsung has licensed. The fact that it's superhydrophobic goes beyond a normal hydrophobic coating; rather than simply not allowing water to go through the coating, it bounces off at an angle of at least 150 degrees. This essentially means that, unless the substrate is completely submerged, it will shrug off any impact with water and be totally dry in seconds. Obviously, for a device that's with the user all the time and could easily come into accidental contact with moisture, this is ideal.
On top of repelling water, the film has a few bonus attributes that it bestows upon glass that it's melded to. Namely, it reduces light glare, helps keep the glass free of dirt, dust, and fingerprints, and even resists smudges. While Samsung did manage to score an exclusive license to use the film in electronic devices, a huge number of other uses are possible, and we may see this film hitting a number of consumer and non-consumer segments in the coming years. Things like car windshields and solar panels could benefit from a coat of this film, among other uses, and the same breakthrough that led to its development could lead to scientists being able to bestow the property of being superhydrophobic upon other materials, such as silicon circuits. While the metal conductive bits still cannot be coated because that would stem the flow of electricity, superhydrophobic properties on the screen alone will be a big help in waterproofing future smartphones, and at least until the current license expires at an undisclosed future date, only Samsung buyers will get that benefit.