The nanocoating tech boom thanks to the smartphone market

10th January 2018
Anna Flockett

Most people daily encounter the use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and a whole host of other connected devices in common places such as home, work and travel life. But which of these devices do consumers currently need (or expect) to be water resistant? Ady Moores, CEO of P2i, has the answer and explains more here.

Until relatively recently, water resistant phones, cameras and other gadgets have commanded a high price, and have therefore only been catered for and marketed to in fairly niche markets. Most consumers are unlikely to consider the consequences of liquid damage, or how easily it can occur, and therefore unlikely to pay a high premium for it.

Water resistant gadgets and smartphones have, of course, already been around for a number of years - waterproof watches for example – albeit analogue – date back to the late 1800s. But since both Samsung and Apple started to incorporate liquid protection into their flagship smartphones from 2016, this mainstream technology and consumer’s expectations as to what they want and demand for their personal use has changed. To put it simply, the majority of users now expect liquid protection as a basic feature on the highest-end smartphones, and increasingly, some level of protection on mid-tier devices as well.

This shift in consumer expectations was already apparent in late 2016, when a YouGov poll revealed that, after battery life and shatterproof screens, water resistance was expected to be the next major feature that positively influenced consumers’ buying decisions when looking to invest in a new smartphone.

Once a water resistant device is acquired, and its benefits proven, it’s hard to envisage a scenario where a consumer would revert back to a device that offered worse or no protection. The demand and therefore market for water resistant smartphones is only going in one direction, and it won’t be long before it’s expected on all manner of electronic devices.

Demand for nanocoating tech booming
Indeed, market research from Zion Market Research indicated last year that the demand for water resistant nanocoating technologies from the consumer and business electronics industry is going to skyrocket in the next couple of years.

There are so many different use cases that nanocoating devices offers to manufacturers and users, which is why global demand is going to increase by almost a quarter a year, and the global market for nanocoating estimated to grow in value to $6.85bn by 2020.

The scale of the problem
Often, consumers will be confronted by new technology they don’t know they need. Smartphone manufacturers have trialled 3D screens and cameras, kickstands, modular designs, but as there wasn’t an inherent market requirement for them, therefore they all fell by the wayside. However, IDC research has shown that liquid damage is the second most common cause of smartphone damage, following shattered screens, and accounts for over a third of all repairs made (35%).

As such, analysts at IDC predicted exactly what we are now seeing in the nanocoating market – ‘a seismic shift’ in the use, research and development of nanocoating technologies for the smartphone market, purely driven by the fact that ‘water-resistant handsets are the fastest-growing segment in the smartphone category.’

But as indicated by Zion Market Research, water resistant nanocoatings have applications beyond the smartphone. We can see that as connected devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT) start to proliferate – sensors, connected homes, workplaces, cities and transportation etc. will all have similar requirements for liquid protection

The water risk in the IoT age
Billions of new IoT devices are going to have to be reliable, durable and water-resistant. Which means that every single sensor powering machine to machine (M2M) connectivity across all industries is going to benefit from technological advancements in water resistant nanocoatings.

Connectivity of everyday home and work devices and sensors is fundamental to the IoT age, but if a networked devices becomes damaged at any point due to water ingress, then they may be unable to transmit data. 

This comes particularly problematic for devices deployed in outdoor environments that will require the absolute minimum maintenance and servicing in order to be cost effective. Reliability and durability are going to be far more important in the IoT than they have ever been in low cost technology. And whilst quick to replace, the actual process or replacing and repairing them can negate their usefulness and the return on investment made.

Rain, snow, humidity and other weather extremes are major threats to the performance of IoT technologies. And this is exactly where nanocoating technologies are able to provide a cost-effective ubiquitous solution to prevent ingress from liquid.

How does nanocoating technology work?
Nanocoating differs from previous waterproofing solutions, in which physical seals were built into devices to stop water ingress. Instead, nanocoating is a low-pressure deposition process that covers the complete device, from smartphones and tablets to a multitude of different IoT sensors that can be used in domestic or industrial settings. It’s more cost effective than physical barriers, and enables greater design freedom

The device or sensor is coated both inside and out with a nano-scale monomer, which chemically bonds to the surface of the screen or device. It’s true that many IoT devices that will be deployed outside and in extreme weather conditions will feature ruggedised features where aesthetics are less of a concern than with consumer electronics. But the addition of nanocoating on such devices means they will have dual layer protection. So even when physical barriers are compromised, they can continue to withstand water and liquid ingress corrosion for many years to come.

With dual, or even triple layer protection, OEMs could even build in early warning systems that alert users to when the mechanical layer of defence has been compromised. This could be facilitated by the emergence of electronic Liquid Contact Indicators (LCIs).

LCI tape has always been used to denote water damage once a device has been opened up and is therefore of little benefit to the end user, other than to tell them their insurance won’t cover them. More advanced sensors could better detect and alert users in real-time to water ingress, enabling them to get a smartphone repaired while the device is still protected by the hydrophobic coating, and before circuit boards and other critical components start to rust or fail completely.

P2i’s research and development into nanocoating in the hearing aid, headset and smartphone markets, means we are well placed to deliver reliability and durability across a whole range of IoT devices and sensors, in a cost effective manner.

Continuous up-time, better and more reliable connectivity, due to hardware that can properly withstand the elements wherever they are used, is the only way to truly realise the value of the IoT. The technology is bringing water resistance to the mass market and preparing us for the ‘always on’ connectivity that will define the IoT age.

P2i prides itself on being the first and only company to bring a nanocoating solution to market on a proven mass market scale. The company has treated over 250 million electronic devices with its innovative water repellent technologies, protecting and improving the performance of connected devices the world over.

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