Apple Working on waterproofing iDevice Speakers & Microphone
Apple has been filing patents and even winning patents for years regarding waterproofing iDevices and their individual components as you could review here: 2012, 2013, 2013 and 2014. In September we posted a report titled "New iFixit Teardown discovers yet another Apple Patent Come to Life," in respect to waterproofing the new iPhone 6s. The iFixit team discovered that Apple was using new waterproof silicon seals on board-to-board connectors. The report pointed to an Apple patent that we covered back in March titled "Apple Invents a Waterproofing Method for Future iDevices using Hydrophobic Conformal Coatings and Silicon Seals." Today, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published another waterproofing/water resistant related patent application from Apple titled "Evacuation of Liquid from Acoustic Space" wherein Apple tackles waterproofing methods for iDevice speaker(s) and microphone.
Apple notes in their patent background that in some implementations, various components of such acoustic modules may be made resistant to water and/or other liquids in order to protect sensitive components. However, even when such components are made resistant to liquids, the presence of such liquids may interfere with acoustic operation. For example, the presence of liquid in an acoustic cavity through which acoustic waves must travel either to or from an acoustic membrane may hinder acoustic membrane vibration. Such hindrance may impede proper operation of such an acoustic module even when damage from such liquids is prevented.
Apple's invention that sets out to remedy the problem outlined above covers systems, methods, and apparatuses for evacuating liquid from an acoustic space.
Apple notes that an acoustic module, such as a microphone or speaker module, may include an acoustic membrane that vibrates to produce acoustic waves and an acoustic cavity through which acoustic waves produced by the membrane travel. A liquid removal mechanism may remove liquid from the acoustic cavity.
In various implementations, the liquid removal mechanism may include the acoustic membrane, which may produce one or more acoustic signals to force the liquid from the acoustic cavity. Such acoustic signal may be outside the acoustic range audible to humans.
In some cases, one or more sensors may detect the presence of liquid in the acoustic cavity. In such cases, the liquid removal mechanism may cause the acoustic membrane to produce a first acoustic signal, determine that the liquid is still present in the acoustic cavity, and cause the acoustic membrane to produce a second acoustic signal.
In various implementations of such cases, the produced acoustic signal may be one that was previously produced to successfully force other liquid from the acoustic cavity at a previous time.
In one or more implementations, a screen element, such as a mesh, may separate the acoustic cavity from an external environment. The screen element may resist entry of liquids from the external environment into the acoustic cavity. In some cases, the screen element may be configured with one or more hydrophobic surfaces, such as one or more hydrophobic coatings.
In various cases, an external surface of the screen element may be configured to be hydrophobic and an internal surface of the screen element may be configured to be hydrophilic, such as utilizing one or more hydrophobic and/or hydrophilic coatings. In other cases, the screen element may be configurable between a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic state. Such configuration may be based on the application of an electrical field. Various surfaces of the acoustic cavity may also be coated with one or more hydrophobic coatings.
In the iFixit report they noted that "No obvious signs of waterproofing in the speaker or headphone jack, either. The speaker sports a slightly finer mesh weave than that of the iPhone 6, but it doesn't appear to repel water any better—in our tests, both speakers seemed to gulp down liquids at about the same rate."
While the finer mesh would be a part of this invention, it's unknown at this time whether or not Apple chose one of the hydrophobic coatings that they listed in their patent and is presented to you below. Did Apple miss the deadline and simply passed on using a new coating for the speaker mesh or will that aspect of the invention surface on the iPhone 7? I suppose we'll have to wait and see if Apple highlights this feature in their future iPhone-7 literature or read about it in the iPhone-7 iFixit teardown in 2016.
In respect to new coatings, Apple notes that in some cases, the screen element may be configured with one or more hydrophobic surfaces, such as one or more hydrophobic coatings (such as manganese oxide polystyrene, zinc oxide polystyrene, precipitated calcium carbonate, carbon-nanotubes, silica nano-coating, polytetrafluoroethylene, silicon, and so on). Such hydrophobic surfaces may resist the passage of liquids through the screen element in one or more directions.
In some implementations, the liquid removal element may include one or more heating elements that aid in evaporation of the liquid. In some cases, a voice coil may be coupled to the acoustic membrane and current may be applied to the voice coil to cause the voice coil to heat and act as the heating element. Such application of current may apply a direct current to perform heating as opposed to an alternating current voltage when vibrating the acoustic membrane utilizing the voice coil.
Apple patent application 20150319534 was originally filed in Q3 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
It's always interesting to see Apple continually work on a problem over an expanded time line for things like waterproofing or wireless inductive charging that we reported on earlier today. We noted in a report last week that Phil Schiller revealed that "When we look at creating each new product, one of the great things about the process is the product teams are free to re-imagine a product any way that would make it better. They're not tied to a schedule, to force it into a specific time window, not tied to past definitions of the product."
So when we see groups of inventions relating to one theme or another like we have today and see ideas coming from vastly different angles and approaches, this is Apple trying to find a method to make a product better in the tiniest of ways in every generation of iDevice or Mac. It's this insane attention to detail that makes Apple's products so appealing for those who still appreciate craftsmanship and quality. It's what Steve Jobs brought back to Apple in 1997 and over the years: passion. Passion for whatever they chose to create in the form of devices or services. A driving passion that was sorely absent in the film 'Steve Jobs' by Aaron Sorkin and just one of the many reasons why it bombed at the box office nationwide.
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