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On August 13, 2015, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their work on using sapphire for purposes of creating a unique antenna for Wifi, Bluetooth and more importantly NFC. By integrating the antenna onto the sapphire glass cover or in the frame of a sapphire glass based device design, the device could be dramatically thinner and more flexible as noted earlier in a 2013 Apple patent filing. A better designed antenna for NFC would also theoretically be better for use with Apple Pay. The design, according to Apple, could also relate to the Apple Watch and/or other future devices. Yesterday it was revealed that Apple joined the board of the NFC Forum.


Apple's Patent Background


Apple notes that most conventional electronic devices include NFC systems, which allow electronic devices to wirelessly share and/or transmit data to distinct electronic devices. That is, the NFC system allows the wireless sharing of data between electronic devices that are contacting or within close proximity to one another. Conventional NFC systems utilize flexible printed circuits (FPC) in combination with coil antennas for transmitting the data between electronic devices. The FPC typically includes multiple layers, that are laminated together, to electrically couple the antennas and/or other components of the NFC system included on the FPC. Additionally, the FPC typically includes a layer of ferrite material positioned adjacent the FPC to prevent interference between the antenna of the FPC and other components of the electronic device. As a result of the laminated, multi-layer construction of the FPC, and the inclusion of a layer of ferrite material, the FPC can occupy a large amount of space within the housing of the electronic device.


Additionally, the FPC used in conventional NFC systems typically lack structural integrity. That is, the FPC includes substantially flexible properties, which adds further processing and/or operational risks when utilizing an FPC in an NFC system of an electronic device. For example, when installing an FPC in an electronic device, the FPC may require additional components to substantially fix the FPC within the housing of the electronic device. As such, the components used to fix the FPC may require even more space within the housing of the electronic device. Additionally, where the FPC is loosened or floating within the housing of the electronic device, undesirable flexion of the FPC may disconnect the FPC from other components of the electronic device, or may disrupt the connection of the components (e.g., antenna) on the PFC.


Apple Invents an Antenna on Sapphire Structure


Apple's invention relates to electronic device antennas formed on sapphire structures and methods for forming the antennas on sapphire structures. The antenna may include antenna traces formed on distinct sides of a sapphire structure, where the respective traces are in electronic communication with one another by a plurality of vias formed in the sapphire structure or through doping the sapphire structure.


By utilizing a sapphire structure to form the antenna of a wireless communication system in an electronic device, the overall size of the antenna may be substantially reduced. That is, as single sapphire structure may be used to form the antenna. By reducing the size of the antenna, the space required for the antenna within the enclosure of the electronic device may also be substantially reduced, and may allow more space within the enclosure for other components of the electronic device (for example, providing additional space for a battery).


Additionally, the sapphire structure of the antenna may include a custom configuration (e.g., shape). As a result of the custom configuration, the antenna may be placed in a variety of places within the enclosure of the electronic device and/or may include an increased area for the antenna.


Furthermore, by forming the antenna on the sapphire structure, where the sapphire structure is substantially rigid, the antenna may be more easily fixed within the enclosure of the electronic device and/or may substantially prevent disconnection of the antenna from other components of the electronic device and/or disruption of the traces on the sapphire structure.


Apple's patent FIG. 1A shows an illustrative plane view of an antenna formed on a sapphire structure; FIG. 4 shows an illustrative perspective view of an electronic device utilizing an antenna. It also illustrates that the frame of the device is made of Sapphire; FIG. 5 shows an illustrative cross-sectional plane view of the electronic device of FIG. 4 along line 5-5. The electronic device in FIG. 5 includes an antenna.



Apple notes that sapphire structure #102, as shown in FIG. 1A may include a custom configured portion of sapphire, formed from a large, artificially grown piece of corundum. The artificially grown corundum used to form sapphire structure 102 may be grown using any conventional growth process including, but not limited to: hydrothermal growth; vertical horizontal gradient freezing ("VHGF"); edge-defined film-fed growth ("EFG"); horizontal moving growth (e.g., Bridgman growth); and Kyropoulos growth.


Beyond the antenna designed for a smartphone, Apple notes that the design could also relate to Apple Watch, a MacBook an iMac, an iPad, iPod, gaming device or health monitoring device, and so on.


In respect to a smartphone enclosure being made of sapphire glass, Apple first introduced this idea back in December 2013 in a killer patent filing.




Patent Credits


Apple credits Scott Myers and Benjamin Pope as the inventors of patent application 20150229018 which was originally filed in Q1 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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