The orange goo in my hands looks feels like Silly Putty and smells like a faintly expired peanut brittle, but this goop is no geeky toy, and it could save your smartphone from the mortal enemy of any and every gadget: a simple drop.
It’s part of a field called “impact protection,” and this area is worth millions of dollars.
Hardly a surprise, especially when you realise that more and more people are buying smartphones, and these devices are susceptible to easy breaks when they come into contact with the ground from heights.
They are mostly touch-screens, after all, as the button-based dumb-phone is more or less dead, whether you like it or not.
As such, almost every mobile handset coming out is designed with a big screen and very few buttons, with thin edges and a flat back. It’s a pretty consistent design, and one that is prone to slipping out of hands and dropping on the floor.
People always think it’s the screen that they have to be worried about in a fall, but it’s really the corners and edges of the device.
When a smartphone falls from your hands, it will more likely hit one of these parts, and when the phone is the only thing absorbing the energy from the handset colliding with the hard ground, that spreads through the rest of the handset and causes the screen to smash.
That’s why there are so many broken screens out there, and so many people dragging their finger along broken glass when they use their damaged smartphones.
We drop phones so much that “impact protection” is serious business, and when you buy a case designed for this, chances are your pockets struggle. These cases are often big, bulky, and designed to take a beating, leaving your device well protected, and your pockets, well, as blown out as your once slim phone looked.
But Tech21 is approaching impact protection from a different angle, choosing not to make the case bigger, but to make a different material absorb the energy when the phone lands on the ground.
Inside Tech21’s cases – which head to Apple, Harvey Norman, and Vodafone stores now – is a material called D3O, a patented orange material that contains a polymer with an unusual molecular structure, capable of absorbing energy and spreading it upon impact.
In its liquid-like putty stage, which is what it sits in as we move the goo between our fingers, it’s just like silly putty, and you can see it bounce, stretch, and break easily.
Once D3O is injected into a case mould, however, it takes on a different use altogether: from here, drops can be better protected against, as the case and the special polymer deal with the impact in better ways, and in a case that doesn’t turn your pockets into a heavy backpack.