[THE INVESTOR] Water resistance has become a must-have feature for high-end smartphones. From Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S series to Apple’s iPhones, nearly all top-tier smartphones now boast a water-resistant design.
The secret behind the now-mainstream water-resistant feature is a double-sided adhesive tape that is attached between the cover glass and touch screen panel of a smartphone and also on the small parts of the handset, including the camera module and manual buttons to keep water out of the phone’s housing.
Currently, South Korean film manufacturer NDFOS, founded in 2010, and US materials giant 3M compete to take the lion’s share in the segment for the water-resistant tape.
3M’s market cap, at US$106.6 billion, is nearly 580 times higher than that of the Korean firm at US$184 million.
Though smaller in size, the Korean firm has gained significant presence in the resistant-tape segment in a relatively short time as its products have been adopted in top-tier smartphones of Samsung and Apple.
The main supplier of the water-resistant tape for Samsung’s Galaxy S series and Galaxy Note series from 2014, NDFOS is also one of the two suppliers, along with 3M, for the tape used in Apple’s iPhone 6s and 7.
“NDFOS is specialized in producing a tape that meets the IP68 international standards,” said a spokesperson of the firm.
“Different from other rivals, which roll out water-resistant tapes for a wide range of products, NDFOS is mainly focused on water resistant tapes specifically designed for mobile devices.”
The Korean company refused to talk about deals with its partners, but some market analysts expected that the upcoming Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8 will both come with the IP68 certification, which indicates the highest level of dust and water resistance.
3M, a powerhouse in the tape and adhesive businesses, said its technology is “unmatched by any other firm,” and it can meet the various needs of customers by providing them tailored products through its global supply chains.
Although the tape is widely used for water-resistant phones, 3M said water-resistant glue can also be a good option. The tape type makes repair work easier compared to adhesives.
“Currently, smartphone makers prefer tapes over glue for water-resistant devices, but some are paying keen attention to a glue-based water-resistant design, which allows more leeway in designing phones,” said a marketing official from the Korean office of 3M, declining to be named.
Device manufacturers are usually required to spend larger investments in installing the related processing lines for the water-resistant glue than the tape.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)