Water Resistant-Ish

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Today, we’re going to dive deep on the subject of the water resistance of the Apple Watch! Let’s begin with a brief discussion on nomenclature.

While the term is often used casually, most watches are not actually “waterproof” (generally, only high-end dive watches actually use this word in marketing). However, just about all wristwatches are “water-resistant” to some degree, with even cheap digital watches offering excellent water resistance. For most people, these watches are effectively waterproof. Standard use, including swimming, will have no ill effects.

Unfortunately, devices in the new category known as smartwatches have often lacked good water resistance, and the Apple Watch is definitely not a leader in this area. When Apple first unveiled the Apple Watch in 2014, they made no public mention whatsoever of its ability to withstand water. At the time, however, some reporters did receive a bit more information. The word from Apple was that “sweating, wearing it in the rain, washing your hands, or cooking with it are fine”, but you should “[t]ake it off before you swim or get in the shower”.

The next news came in February, when Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly stated that he wears his Apple Watch even in the shower. Here’s a really mediocre French-to-English Google translation of the statement in question:

According to the report that is in us, the boss explained that Apple now always wore his watch “even in the shower.” Casually, it’s since Apple has never communicated info on the tolerance of his watch to water: rather dog or cat instead? It was just a visual on the site with a sporty wet arm but not swimming scenes.

I included this lousy translation (the report is where?) mostly because I really love the idea of measuring a watch as having “dog-like” or “cat-like” water-tolerance. It’s not at all precise, but it certainly is evocative.

Apple’s site was updated in March to include an official water-resistance rating, stating:

Apple Watch is splash and and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529. The leather bands are not water resistant.

Now, the IP Code is actually a bit tricky. That IPX7 rating means only that the device can handle immersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It doesn’t tell us anything about other types of water resistance. A footnote from the above-linked Wikipedia page leads to this page, which states:1

Ratings IPX7 and IPX8: Tests for the ratings IPX7 and IPX8 address the possibility of moisture ingress from submersion in water. For IPX7 testing, the sample is submerged for 30 minutes. The lowest point of the enclosure should be 1000 mm below the surface of the water, and the highest point at least 150 mm below the surface…Compliance with either of these tests does not imply compliance with IPX5 or IPX6 unless the product is marked with both ratings (for example, “IPX5/IPX7”). [Emphasis added]

Thus, an IPX7-rated device like the Apple Watch does not necessarily include any protection from water jets (IPX5, IPX6, IPX6K) like those found in a shower. It would seem odd for Apple’s CEO to admit to showering with his Apple Watch if the device can’t actually handle it though, right? Of course, Cook was never quoted as stating that the device survived the shower. Perhaps it’s all part of an evil strategy to trick customers into drowning their watches, forcing them to buy new ones.

On April 24th, the watch was finally released to the public. Due to myriad factors, including the direction of the Earth’s rotation, the placement of the so-called “International Date Line”, and—well look, it’s all very technical. Suffice it to say that Australians got the watch hours upon hours ahead of their jealous counterparts to the West. The young New Zealand lads at FoneFox did some stress testing, posting a video of the watch surviving the shower, a bucket of water, and even a swim in a pool.

Apple Watch in Pool
Apple Watch: Takes a(n extremely shallow) dive and still stays alive

The watch outperformed its IPX7 certification, and all previous announcements, both formal and informal. In fact, the Apple Watch performed so well that the FoneFox folks rewarded it by bashing it to death with a hammer. If you’re still waiting on your Apple Watch, you may wish to skip that video, but you should know that it took several strikes to break the watch. It turns out that much like yourself, a bit of water won’t kill the Apple Watch, but four blows right to the face probably will.

Nevertheless, between Apple’s CEO stating that he showers with the Apple Watch and the Kiwis stress-testing it, it would seem to offer good water resistance. And yet most recently, I stumbled upon the following, buried on page 137 of the 159 page Apple Watch User Guide:

Exposure to liquid Apple Watch is water resistant but not waterproof. You may, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise (exposure to sweat is OK), in the rain, and while washing your hands. If water splashes on to the watch, wipe it off with a nonabrasive, lint-free cloth.

Submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529…The following may affect the water resistance of Apple Watch and should be avoided:

  • Dropping Apple Watch or subjecting it to other impacts.

  • Submerging Apple Watch in water for long periods of time.

  • Swimming or bathing with Apple Watch.

  • Exposing Apple Watch to pressurized water or high velocity water, for example, showering, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, jet skiing, and so on.2

  • Wearing Apple Watch in the sauna or steam room.

If nothing else, it would appear that Tim Cook is violating the recommendations of his own company’s user guide. Assuming he was accurately quoted by a French website describing a meeting Cook had with retail employees in Germany, anyhow. Regardless, there’s definitely some confusion as to just how water resistant the Apple Watch really is.

So it is that I, and you, arrive at the end of this post without any real conclusion. Real-world tests indicate that the Apple Watch is fairly rugged. It can certainly stand up to use while running and sweating, and it also seems capable of withstanding trips into the shower. Apple appears to be under-promising and over-delivering, which is better than the reverse. As well, given that the company certainly wants to avoid their brand new product acquiring a reputation for flakiness, they’d be foolish not to swap any water-damaged devices which succumbed under reasonable usage. All that is to say that while Apple should probably do a better job of explaining exactly what users can expect in the real-world, you probably don’t need to worry much.


Footnotes:

  1. At the time of writing, that page wouldn’t load, so the Internet Archive’s wonderful Wayback Machine was used to retrieve it. ↩︎

  2. It seems just a bit ridiculous for “showering” to be lumped together with “water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, (and) jet skiing”, no? ↩︎


If you enjoyed this post, get updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.