Basically, most consumers really don't care about how the sexy new iPhone is made; they just want to be able to enjoy buying this stunningly crafted device called the iPhone 4 and get out there and start flashing it in the face of their friends who are sad owners of the thick-brick Android or even the butt ugly Android. They don't really care about the shape of the iPhone's gasket or that the manufacturing process utilizes liquid metal so as to avoid gaps or spaces between the glass and metal members – or that Apple uses alloys with liquid atomic structures. Yet to future engineers and possibly those that will be the next generation of Crazy Ones in Cupertino, it definitely matters. Today's brief report points you to one of many Patents that are behind the coolest iPhone ever – with a few pointers along the way.
Engineering Precision: Engineering Cool
During the manufacture of electronic devices such as a cellular telephone, transparent components are often held within housings. By way of example, many electronic devices have displays that include glass or plastic Windows which are held by a metal housing. Typically, a metal frame or housing is formed, and a glass component or a plastic component is inserted into the formed frame or housing.
In order to properly secure a metal frame and a glass component together, the tolerances associated with the fit between the metal frame and the glass component must he strictly maintained. That is, the tolerance matches between the metal frame and the glass component are maintained such that the glass component may be inserted into the metal frame and held in place. An overall assembly that includes a metal frame and a glass component inserted therein may be held together by a press fit, using adhesive materials, and/or using mechanical structures such as screws. If the tolerance matches between the metal frame and the glass component are not strictly maintained, the integrity of the overall assembly may be compromised. For relatively small assemblies, maintaining critical tolerances between metal frames and glass components such that tolerance mismatches are unlikely to occur may be difficult.
Apple's patent covers some of the intricate methods and processes that are required to ensure that the assemblies of devices that are mating metal with glass, like the iPhone 4 or iMac, are incredibly accurate so as to provide stunning end user products where metal and glass simply appear as if they're naturally blending together without seam. And the only seams that are present on the design, are ingeniously a series of antennas that are brought together to create the primary structure of the new iPhone. Jonathan Ives, Senior Vice President, Industrial Design explains this in Apple's new iPhone 4 video.
Integrally Formed Glass and Metal
Apple's patent FIG. 11 is a diagrammatic perspective of an iPhone that includes a housing that includes and integrally formed glass and metal part. Apple's patent FIG. 8A is a diagrammatic top view representation of a transparent member on which a layer of compliant material has been formed. In FIG. 8B we see a cross-sectional side view of an overall assembly that includes a transparent member and a metal member which are in substantial contact through a layer of compliant material.
Liquid Metal, Synthetic Sapphire & More
According to one aspect of the present invention, a method includes positioning a transparent member in a mold configured for insertion molding, and providing a liquid metal into the mold. The method also includes hardening the liquid metal in the mold. Hardening the liquid metal includes binding the metal to the transparent member to create the integral assembly.
The metal in liquid form may for example correspond to amorphous alloys, which are metals that may behave like plastic, or alloys with liquid atomic structures. Liquid Metal is one suitable example for the metal in liquid form. Substantially any metal or, more generally, material in liquid form which has a thermal expansion rate that is similar to the thermal expansion rate of liquid metal may be used in an insertion molding process.
Update August 9, 2010: On August 5, 2010, Liquidmetal Technologies, Inc., entered into a Master Transaction Agreement with Apple Inc.
Additionally, the patent uniquely states that the display could be made of any suitable transparent material such as the exotic synthetic sapphire. So what did Apple end up using in their new iPhone 4? Aluminosilicate glass – the very same glass used in the windshields of helicopters and high-speed trains. Hell - let it be known that this kind of glass is also used in space-vehicle windows.
The channels and cavities of the device, according to the patent, could be formed in a variety of ways. In one example, channels and cavities are formed via machining or cutting operations. Alternatively, they may be formed with a cutting beam such as a laser or water jet stream – as shown in one of the processes in Apple's iPhone video.
Methods of Design go beyond the iPhone
Although only a few embodiments of the present invention were described in Apple's patent, it should be understood, according to their patent, that the present invention could be embodied in many other specific forms without departing from the spirit or the scope of the present invention. By way of example, the steps associated with the methods of the present invention may vary widely. Steps could he added, removed, altered, combined, and reordered without departing from the spirit of the scope of the present invention.
By way of example, and not by way of limitation, the electronic device may correspond to media players, cellular phones, PDAs, remote controls, notebooks, tablet PCs, monitors, all in one computers and the like. Apple's iMac would be a classic metal and glass end user product using these processes.
Apple credits Kyle Yeates as the sole inventor of this patent titled "Methods and Systems for Integrally Trapping a Glass Insert in a Metal Bezel." The patent was originally filed in Q4 2007 and recently published in the European Patent Office database. They credit the source of the application as being South Korea under patent number KR20100036365. This patent could also be found in the World Intellectual Property Organization's database under WO 2009009764.
The Mini Monolith: Now Available at the Apple Store
Since the dawn of time, cavemen and astronaut alike have been in awe of the great black Monolith. They were drawn to it. All had to touch it – and all wondered aloud: What could this be? Wonder no more: The mini monolith is now available in handheld form at the Apple Store: Welcome to iPhone 4.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details.
Note: The News update concerning the Liquidmetal master agreement with Apple was first reported on by AppleInsider on August 9, 2010.