A Peek Inside Apple Durability Testing Labs

Apple is well-known for its secrecy, which is understandable given the high stakes in the high-end mobile phone industry. It’s interesting to get a glimpse inside its durability labs and see the equipment and processes it uses to support its IP68 ingress claims, determine drop ability, and perform accelerated wear and tear testing.

Check out these cool custom-built machines on display! They verify designs against a sliding scale of water ingress tests. At the bottom end is IPx4 for a light shower, but basically no pressure. Next up is IPx5, which covers low-pressure ambient-temperature spray jets from all angles – we really liked this machine! Finally, the top-end IPx7 and IPx8 are tested with a literal fire hose blast and a dip in a static pressure tank, simulating a significant depth of water. An Epson robot arm with a custom gripper is programmed to perform a spinning drop onto a hard surface in a repeatable manner. The drop surface is swapped out for each run – anything from a wooden sheet to a slab of asphalt can be tried. High-speed cameras record the motion in enough detail to resolve the vibrations of the titanium shell upon impact!

Accelerated wear and tear testing is carried out using a shake table, which can be adjusted to match the specific frequencies of a car engine or a subway train. Additionally, there’s an interview with the head of Apple’s hardware division discussing the tradeoffs between repairability and durability. He makes some good points that suggest if modern phones are more reliable and have fewer failures, then durability can be prioritized in the design, as long as the battery can still be replaced.

The repairability debate has been raging strong for many years now. Here’s our guide to the responsible use of new technology.

Thanks to [Dan] for the tip!

19 thoughts on “A Peek Inside Apple Durability Testing Labs

    1. The IPx ratings are a really complicated web of testing and standards that I deal with for electronics for firefighters.
      Most people are (usually) only concerned with IP6x because they don’t take their devices swimming.
      We uuuh, kinda deal with a lot of water.

      IP7/8 “mostly” deals with pressure differences and *functionality* while under water.
      This is where the seals around ports and buttons become much more important as high end goods want nice button actuation, but that is the opposite direction of making good waterproof seals.

      I think that the current modern approach is to use layered material to shield the sealing area from the jets and water impact, so that you can use a comparatively thin membrane for the seal and to give a good button actuation. You can see some neat cross-sections in patents. https://patents.google.com/patent/US20070034493A1/en

      The depth rating is a further tradeoff as water pressure increases quite dramatically with depth and thin membrane seals and orings compress allowing water past.
      We have some specialty portable radios that are acutally ever so slightly pressurized with air inside to combat this and allow greater depth rating.

      1. I imagine most of us are glad to never have to design devices for firefighters! High pressure water, heat, but also cold from CO2?, smoke particles, vapours, corrosive gasses & foams… I struggle to think of a worse environment… Venus maybe?

        1. Slaughter houses. Wash down at the grisly end of the harvest floor is pretty much Venus. Heated acid solutions, heated basic solutions, high pressure steam and near boiling water. Highest tech but of kit I’ve seen in there was a specialist CCTV camera. Asked how they got it to survive for long periods ‘oh they don’t, we just have a box full of them out back’.

          1. Firefighters deal with emergencies. You can’t always control your environment in such, and you need to trust your equipment will handle unforeseen eventualities. My opinion only though.

          2. If you’re in a building fire with more than one team in the building, then yeah, by accident you may find yourself on the wrong end of a stream of high pressure water! Plus you may find yourself in a place with burst pipes jetting water at you. Typically though, we’ll try very hard to stay dry in a fire, as wet fire kit will steam you like a boil in the bag meal and seriously reduce the heat you can stand.
            The other consideration for sealing kit is to ensure that any sparks generated inside that kit stay there, so that you don’t ignite gasses, if you’re unlucky enough to be in an environment with an explosive gas mix.

  1. This is interesting to see, including for what it doesn’t show (e.g., tumblers and mechanical asses to simulate being in a purse or pocket). Though I’m sure they do have other tests, like for the USB socket.

    What strikes me is what a unique challenge it must be to design a high-value product where you aim to ship 100 million units before you start getting real-world feedback. If they made a phone where twisting it a certain way made the screen pop out, the sheer scale means something like that could cost them billions.

    It helps explain why their design got so austere, and why there’s so much glue in there now. When Apple’s products were really good, it was /because/ they weren’t a giant company worried about giant company stuff.

    1. I’m sure they have devices to simulate pockets; in a previous job we had a device custom built for portable Cd players (remember those?! 😂) which simulated a walking motion to stress test the buffering. That wasn’t even our main business.

  2. These are some very cool machines.

    However, I’m a big advocate for testing in real use cases.

    What are the reasonable use cases where a phone is getting wet?

    Other than humidity from the environment and evaporating sweat, I’m not sure why else a phone needs a moisture resistance rating.

    Maybe it’s in you pocket when you are out on a bicycle/motorcycle/jog and you get caught in a sudden storm?
    That’s reasonable.

    Maybe you work in the splash zone of an amusement park ride, a water park, or Sea World?
    That’s reasonable…ish.

    Clearly “I don’t get it”.
    I treat my phones and electronics with the respect and care warranted by their multi-hundred dollar price tags.

    These aren’t a $5 set of screwdrivers from Harbor Freight. They are a frickin computer you get to carry around in your pocket.

    I’ve never broken a phone or even scratched a screen, despite keeping it in my pocket every day. I take it running, biking, camping (to and from… I don’t USE it out there), hiking, skiing, etc.
    I don’t use a case.
    I just respect the damn thing.

    There are always edge cases.
    My brother breaks his phone every 18 months or so. But he also rides a motorcycle to work, where he climbs telephone poles much of the day. A case is warranted, and accidents happen.

    What’s the excuse for everyone else?
    Is there a cracked screen kink im unaware of? (Not kink shaming.)


    Cool engineering though.

    1. It’s more a feeling that if you get soaked in rain, your thousand-dollar gizmo won’t turn into a thousand dollar paperweight. And the “my phone is more water-resistant than yours.”

      I have a water-resistant phone, and the only times it was facing water was when I was showing my friends it’s water-resistant…

    2. Understand that we are tech enthusiasts. LOTS of people have no reverence toward tech and just don’t wont to think about it. And often those people will pay for the privilege, and that’s the market Apple has comfortably nestled into.

      I have a few people in my life like that, and often I ask them not to use my stuff. I buy mid-tier stuff, ~homeowner-grade, because I am not a contractor and don’t mind setting my drill/driver down rather than tossing it aside onto the concrete. I put my batteries back ot the charger so they can be stored at 40-60% and I can get more years out of them.

      But paying half again more to not have to think, to not have knowledge/skill, to be able to run your batteries down to nothing and leave them in a pile for weeks? Lots of people will make that trade, and in the end its their life. I just hope they recycle.

    3. “What’s the excuse for everyone else?”

      Let me guess:
      – the parent(s) pay for it
      – the subscription model allows for a new one every two years (which is mostly accepted as phones are an item to reflect (but mostly suggest) your financial status. A crack in your screen allows you to brag how expensive it was but that you can afford a new one easily).
      – ignorance

    4. Think of it from the other perspective – Someone may think you must be very lucky to be able to make sure you can carry around a more fragile version of the same expensive device without ever having to use it in a situation that ends up damaging it. There are many people who can’t drop everything to protect their phone just because it’s wet or they don’t have a clean pocket to put it in to avoid scratches or they know they’ll eventually drop it just wrong in the course of work. So they use cases and screen protectors.

  3. About those High speed cameras, to view their footage, you need a program that only runs on windows, so Apple runs windows on iMacs just to view this footage. lol.

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