Apple iPhone 12 Takes a Deep Dive to the Bottom of Lake Tahoe with Surprising Results

CNET iPhone 12 Water Dive Test Lake Tahoe Credit: CNET / YouTube
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Although Apple recently came under fire from Italian regulators for its “aggressive and misleading” claims regarding the water-resistance of the iPhone, new tests have surfaced showing that at least as far as the newest iPhone models are concerned, Apple could actually be understating how resistant the devices are to water.

Since the iPhone 8, Apple has given all of its devices an IP68 water resistance rating, which technically means that they offer complete protection against the ingress of dust and other small particles, while also being able to withstand immersion for 30 minutes or more in at least three feet of water.

Technically speaking, the IP67 rating which was borne by the earlier iPhone 7, also specifies the base three-foot and 30-minute standards, however the IP68 rating allows for manufacturers to go beyond that, although exactly how far beyond they go is entirely up to them.

In the case of the entire iPhone 12 lineup, Apple has promised that they can handle up to almost 20 feet (6 meters) of water for 30 minutes — a marked increase over last year’s iPhone 11, which was only guaranteed to handle about 5 feet of water over the same time period.

However, tests conducted on last year’s iPhone 11 proved that they already exceed this rating after being dropped 39 feet into California’s chilly and salty Monterey Bay for 30 minutes, while a family who lost an iPhone 11 at the bottom of a Disney park lagoon saw it returned two months later still in perfect operating condition.

A Deep Dive for the iPhone 12

This time around, CNET, who conducted the aforementioned iPhone 11 tests last year in partnership with Sofar Ocean Technologies, has now partnered up with Mission Robotics to conduct even deeper dives with Apple’s latest iPhone 12 models.

After all, if the iPhone 11, which was only IP68-rated to 5 feet, could actually withstand almost 40 feet of submersion in a cold salt-water bay, the iPhone 12 should logically be able to do much better with its 20-foot depth IP68 rating.

To conduct the test, the team mounted the iPhone 12 — a standard 6.1-inch model — to Mission Robotics’ underwater drone, Theseus, which can reach a depth of 984 feet (300 metres). A built-in camera on the drone offers feedback to the remote pilot, along with details on depth and water temperature.

As a result, CNET was able to capture the entire process on video, offering up some great underwater footage of the iPhone 12 going for a swim in Lake Tahoe.

The first test simply involved verifying Apple’s IP68 claim for the iPhone 12, diving to 19.6 feet and staying there for 30 minutes. The water temperature in this case was 52 degree Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius).

Not surprisingly, the iPhone 12 worked fine after it surfaced, with only some minor muffling from the speaker, which likely would have improved after it had some time to dry out. However, the CNET team didn’t give the sogged iPhone the chance, as it was time to up the stakes.

Going Deeper

In the second dive, they sent the iPhone down to 65 feet — more than three times the published depth rating. The water at this depth was slightly cooler, at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), but not by much. They also decided to tempt fate even further by leaving it under for an extra 10 minutes, bringing the total submersion time to 40 minutes.

However, even after spending 40 minutes in 65-feet of cold water, the iPhone 12 continued to function as normal, with only a slight loss in speaker quality that didn’t prevent it from still being audible.

After this, the iPhone 12 was powered down and allowed to dry out for 72 hours, after which the team tested it again to see if perhaps any long-term damage had set in. While the phone itself was completely dry, the three cameras did appear to have developed some fogging.

Since the battery had drained by this point, the team needed to recharge it, for which they used a wired cable via the Lightning port, but upon powering it back up, the iPhone 12 appeared to get stuck at a diagnostics screen, which they were unable to get past, even after resetting the device from a MacBook.

It’s unclear what caused that particular error to happen, since it could have been either lingering water damage or simply the shift in temperature from the cold Lake Tahoe water to the indoor environment, or even a combination of both. To be fair, however, this was also after submerging the iPhone in a depth of water over three times beyond its normal rating, and likely far deeper than any normal iPhone owner is likely to ever take their device.

What This Means

The tests would seem to indicate that Apple’s water-resistance claims are in the very least as accurate as specified and that in fact that iPhone 12 can probably go quite a bit beyond the published specs, at least under ideal conditions.

However, it’s important to remember that Apple’s warranty does not cover water damage in any way shape or form. If water gets inside your iPhone, you will not be able to get it serviced under warranty.

In fact, this is at the core of the $12 million fine that Italy recently levied against Apple, since Italy’s antitrust regulatory agency considers Apple’s unwillingness to stand behind its warranty as evidence that its IP68 claims don’t actually hold water, and that it should in the very least be informing consumers that the IP68 ratings are only based on perfect and ideal laboratory conditions.

To be fair, even CNET’s tests involved relatively stable conditions, particularly this year’s, which were conducted in the freshwater of Lake Tahoe, with the colder temperatures behind the only significant variable. Further, the drone took the iPhone 12 down on a gradual dive, which is considerably different than the impact of actually dropping your iPhone in a lake.

On the other hand, since it’s impossible to prove how water damage occurred, Apple’s official warranty policy stance is to assume that if water has gotten into an iPhone, then it must have been misused and pushed beyond the rated specs, rather than conceding that the water-resistance protections may have failed.

So the bottom line is that we do not recommend relying on the iPhone’s water resistance for anything other than protecting you from accidents. If you plan to use your iPhone around water on a regular basis, we’d strongly recommend getting a proper waterproof case for it, and some of the more expensive waterproof cases from premium brands like LifeProof even offer coverage of your iPhone in the event that water does manage to get through the case, although you should always be sure to read the fine print to make sure your specific iPhone model is covered.

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