DryBox Looks to Make a Splash, Drying Out Wet Smartphones

Get your mobile device to a DryBox Drying Station within 36 hours of getting wet, and you stand a good chance of reviving your phone.

No matter how advanced smartphones become, one simple truth remains constant: Water and high-tech electronics generally don't mix. But should your phone ever take an unexpected plunge into a pool, bathtub, or--heaven forfend--a toilet, a company named DryBox thinks it can make bringing your mobile device back to life as convenient as renting a DVD from Redbox.

DryBox makes the DryBox Rescue Station, a box that promises to dry up every last water molecule threatening to wreak havoc on the inside of your phone. The service isn't foolproof, but it does claim a pretty impressive success rate: Get your wet phone to a DryBox service station within 36 hours of its watery mishap, and 75 to 80 percent of the time, you'll walk away with a functioning device after it spends half-an-hour drying out inside a DryBox.

"It's like CPR for a wet phone," David Naumamn, managing partner of DryBox, told me.

Which is not to say that someone is pounding on the screen of your iPhone or Galaxy S5 and screaming "Live, damn you, live!" Instead, it's a drying chamber that uses a combination of factors including heat to rapidly remove moisture from inside your device.

It's certainly a more high-tech approach than the most common method people turn to when their smartphone goes for an unschedule swim--leaving that soaking wet device to dry out in a container of rice. So why turn to DryBox when a low-tech solution is probably readily available right inside your pantry? "The one thing about rice: you never know when the phone is dry," said Naumann, who talks about rice the way an Apple executive might talk about Samsung. More problematic, rice can leave behind unwanted residue; DryBox has opened up phones that have used the rice trick only to find starchy sediment inside, according to Naumann.

Apart from rice, the other great challenge standing between DryBox and widespread use is one of location--as of this writing, the company has its boxes in 19 locations, with most concentrated around its home base of Texas. According to the company's location finder, the nearest retail outlet offering DryBox's service is a scant 1443 miles away from my Bay Area home. (Fortunately, my colleague Caitlin McGarry works near The Device Shop in New York's Times Square, so she was able to bring in a water-soaked phone to try out DryBox's Rescue Station for the video that accompanies this article. Good news: The patient lived.)

All of DryBox's current locations offer what the company calls a manual unit--meaning there's a technician on hand to take your wet phone, place it in the DryBox drying station, and press a button. Ultimately, though, DryBox wants to provide to a self-service option--Naumann conjures up images of Redbox and its ubiquitous self-service DVD rental units at grocery stores and other retail outlets. The company is scheduled to test its first automated unit this week in San Antonio, Texas.

There's a couple of motivating factors for DryBox moving toward a self-service offering. For starters, people are reluctant to hand over their mobile device to a stranger, even one capable of staving off water damage. "For the most part, people want to have control over their device," Naumann said. "They don't want to let it out of their sight." Self-service units also figure to cost less. Using one of DryBox's manual offerings can cost between $30 and $60. (The going rate for Caitlin to dry out an iPhone 4s in New York was $50, for example.) A self-service unit would bring down that cost.

The self-service units will also be able to accomodate a wider range of devices. The manual unit currently dries out only phones, Naumann said, up to and including devices the size of Samsung's Galaxy Note III. "On the automated self-service unit, we can accomodate devices up to and including the size of an iPad Air," he added.

While it works on expanding its service, DryBox can point to its track record in restoring phones that might otherwise be lost to the watery deep. "We have not had one case where [a phone was] successful in DryBox, but then an issue came up down the line," Naumann said. And that includes users who've made a return trip to DryBox after accidentally re-introducing their phones to liquid. "Maybe we should have a frequent drier program," Naumann said.

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