Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that revealed aspects of the new 'stunning ceramic' Apple Watch Edition, but more importantly perhaps, a future ceramic two-part iPhone housing that could advance Apple's true waterproof design.
More on the 'Stunning Ceramic' Apple Watch
Yesterday Apple launched their new stunning ceramic embodied Apple Watch Edition as note in our cover graphic. In yesterday's report covering the Apple Event I pointed to Apple's work with hardened ceramic using Zirconia. Apple had previously used zirconia, a type of ceramic for the bottom of the original Apple Watch. We pointed to Apple's patent that covering the process in creating that hybrid material. Today, a secondary patent came to light titled "Co-Molded Ceramic and Polymer Structure."
Apple's patent FIG. 3 is an Apple Watch that is described as using ceramic for the top, the bottom or both sides.
In Apple's latest patent concerning the use of ceramic for the Apple Watch housing, they discuss another possible hybrid using a polymer. For example, Apple notes that "a smartwatch (such as that shown and described with reference to FIG. 3) may include watch straps coupled to the housing via one or more strap attachment structures. While the watch housing may be formed (at least in part) from ceramic material, it may be beneficial to form the strap attachment structures from a polymer material."
Apple added that "it may be easier to form the complex geometry of the strap attachment structures from polymer than it would be from ceramic, or, in some embodiments, the ceramic material may be too brittle for use as a strap attachment structure. Accordingly, the strap attachment structures may be formed by co-molding a polymer material onto the ceramic material of the housing in the same way that the retaining component is co-molded onto the first housing portion.
How about the Future Stunning Ceramic iPhone?
An interesting twist to this patent filing is that the same ceramic to make the Apple Watch could in fact be used to create a future iPhone. Yes, the patent states that products other than the Apple could use this new ceramic material such as a MacBook (laptop), a biometric sensor, a health monitoring device, other wearable electronic devices, the iPad (tablet) and finally the iPhone (smartphone).
The interesting twist is that ceramic, especially when it is part of a hybrid mixture could be considered a form of glass. Wiki notes that "The crystallinity of ceramic materials ranges from highly oriented to semi-crystalline, and often completely amorphous (e.g., glasses). With the anniversary iPhone rumored to be glass, I have to wonder aloud if Apple's description of this new ceramic, described as "stunning ceramic" by Apple, is the rumored glass for the anniversary iPhone.
Whether it is the future glass iPhone or not, this patent is not only focused on using the new glass-like material in a future iPhone, it's also a patent that describes an all-new method of manufacturing an iPhone in a highly unique two-part body to make it truly waterproof and not merely water resistant.
Apple notes that "In some embodiments, the housing #102 (ceramic) as noted below in FIG. 2, includes a seal 214 disposed between a sealing face of the first housing portion #104 and a sealing face of the second housing portion #106. The sealing faces of the first and second housing portions may face one another such that they both make contact with the seal when the housing portions are assembled together to form the housing #102. The seal may be formed from any appropriate sealing material, such as an elastomer, foam, or the like.
In some embodiments, the seal seals a gap between the first and second housing portions. The seal may serve to prevent or limit debris, moisture, air, or other material from entering and/or escaping the interior of the housing.
Apple further notes that FIG. 2A depicts an exploded perspective view of the housing for an electronic device, showing the second portion #106 separated from the first housing portion #104. In some embodiments, the first housing portion is a shell forming a cavity. The cavity may be defined by a first surface of the ceramic shell and one or more flanges or walls (e.g., walls #216) at an outer periphery of the first surface.
In the Big Picture
In the big picture, Apple's invention discusses products with ceramic materials co-molded with polymer materials, as well as methods of manufacturing housings and/or housing components by co-molding ceramic materials with polymer materials.
In some embodiments, a method for manufacturing a housing component for an electronic device includes placing a first component formed from a ceramic material in a mold. The mold may include a first section defining a first cavity configured to receive the first component, and a second section defining a second cavity that is in communication with the first cavity when the mold is closed, and is in the shape of a feature that is to be joined to the ceramic material.
A polymer material may be injected into the second cavity, thereby forming the feature from the polymer material and bonding the feature to the ceramic material. The polymer material may be cured. The first component and the feature together form the housing component for an electronic device.
In some embodiments, a method of manufacturing a housing component for an electronic device includes securing a ceramic component in a fixture. The ceramic component may have a first side and a second side opposite to the first side, and may define an aperture extending from the first side to the second side therein. A polymer material may be injected into the aperture such that the polymer material substantially fills the aperture, and such that a first surface of the polymer material is substantially coplanar with the first side of the ceramic component. The polymer material may be cured.
In some embodiments, a housing component for an electronic device includes a ceramic shell, the ceramic shell having a central surface surrounded by a flange extending away from the central surface, the central surface and the flange defining a cavity. The housing component may include a polymer material coating the central surface and the flange. The polymer material may be bonded to the central surface and to the flange without any adhesive between the polymer material and the ceramic shell.
Apple's patent application 20160255929 was filed on August 3, 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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