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Apple's Materials Team invents Adjustable-Appearance Housing Structures for the backside of future devices

1 cover adjustable appearance structure apple patent figs


Yesterday the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to future devices and more particularly the rear side of devices having an adjustable-appearance structure that could allow devices like an iPhone, iPad, MacBook to take on different backside patterned designs either set by the user or at the manufacturing stage. Most of the inventors of the patent come from Apple's materials team.   


Electronic devices have housings in which displays and other components are mounted. Device housings are sometimes provided in different finishes.


One of Apple's latest inventions covers an iPhone with its backside being transparent or have structures with an adjustable appearance. These structures may be viewable through the transparent portion of the housing, thereby allowing the appearance of the device to be controlled. The patent doesn't restrict the adjustable appearance to an iPhone and lists other devices that this invention could apply to such as a future iPad, MacBook, iMac and a wide variety of applications relating to vehicles, TV, glasses and more.  


The adjustable-appearance structures may include a mask with openings or other mask elements. For example, the mask may include an opaque thin-film layer with an array of circular openings or openings of other shapes. The adjustable-appearance structure may also include a patterned layer containing an array of visual elements.


Different sets of visual elements may be viewed through the mask depending on the relative position of the mask to the visual elements in the patterned layer.


The visual elements may include elements with different appearances. Movement of the mask relative to the patterned layer may change which of the visual elements are viewable and thereby change the overall appearance of the adjustable-appearance structures and the housing of the electronic device.


The state of the adjustable-appearance structures may be changed during use of the device by a user or may be established during manufacturing. For example, adjustable-appearance structures may be adjusted and then fixed in place in a factory, thereby ensuring that the structures maintain a desired appearance during subsequent use by a user.


If desired, adjustments made to the adjustable-appearance structures may be permanent or semi-permanent. For example, the relative position between the outer mask layer and inner patterned layer can be adjusted during manufacturing and then fixed in place. The adjustable-appearance structures may also be adjusted manually (e.g., using an adjustable screw or other positioner that remains in a static configuration once adjusted).


With arrangements such as these, no power need be consumed by the adjustable-appearance structures during device operation. In some configurations, electrically controlled actuators may be used to move the layers relative to each other. This allows the adjustable-appearance structures to provide visual notifications or other output to a user dynamically. Configurations in which the appearance of the adjustable-appearance structures is static during normal use of a device by a user are sometimes described herein as an example.


Apple's patent FIG. 3 below is cross-sectional side view of illustrative adjustable-appearance structures for changing the appearance of a housing in an electronic device; FIG. 6 is a top view of a portion of an illustrative patterned layer; FIG. 7 is a top view of a portion of an illustrative mask that may overlap the patterned layer of FIG. 6 in various alignments; FIG. 8 is a top view of the mask of FIG. 7 in a first illustrative configuration in which an opening in the mask overlaps a first area of the patterned layer of FIG. 6; FIG. 9 is a top view of the mask of FIG. 7 in a second illustrative configuration in which the opening in the mask overlaps a second area of the patterned layer of FIG. 6.


2 backside of Apple devices with adjustable appearance


Apple's patent FIG. 13 above is a top view of an illustrative patterned layer with multi-section circular visual features; FIG. 14 is a top view of an illustrative mask with circular mask elements that may overlap a patterned layer such as the patterned layer of FIG. 13; FIGS. 15 and 16 are top views of the mask and patterned layers of FIGS. 13 and 14.


Later in the patent filing Apple notes: "In addition to or instead of providing structures in the mask that form masking elements of various shapes, sizes, and optical properties such as color, haze, light transmission, reflection, and light absorption, the optical properties of the elements of the mask may be varied by providing these elements with gratings, polarizing material, wave plates, lenses, prisms, and/or other optical elements that alter the behavior of incident, reflected, and/or transmitted light via refraction, diffraction, polarization, polarization rotation, etc."


Lastly, Apple's patent claim number 8 states: "The electronic device defined in claim wherein the light-refracting optical elements comprise optical elements selected from the group consisting of: lenticular lenses, dome-shaped lenses, pyramidal lens, and prisms."


For the nitty-gritty details, review Apple's patent application number 20210356991.  Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


Apple's List of Inventors


Chris Prest:  Senior Director, Materials Engineering & Product Design

James Wilson: Senior Product Design Engineer, Materials

Marta Giachino: Manager, Materials Product Design

Matt Rogers:  Manager, Product Design Materials/Coatings

Joe Poole: Materials Engineer

Christopher Jones: Chemist/Materials Scientist


10.51FX - Patent Application Bar


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