Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their latest invention that generally relates to electroacoustic transducers, and more specifically to waterproof speaker modules. Some of the engineers on this invention came from audio expert companies such as Bose and JBL. One of the features expected to be found on Apple's iPhone 7 is better waterproofing.
Apple notes in their patent filing that even though some speakers may utilize seals to prevent water from reaching and thereby damaging sensitive speaker components and may be referred to as "waterproof" – no speaker is truly waterproof. Even when seals are utilized, speaker components may be vulnerable to sufficient hydrostatic load exerted upon speaker components when the speakers are immersed in water at depth.
As such, referencing a speaker as waterproof may mean that the speaker is water resistant up to a particular hydrostatic load exerted by a particular depth of water (such as twelve feet).
For example, excessive hydrostatic load may cause the membrane of the speaker to tear, rupture or otherwise experience damage. Even if the speaker includes seals to keep out water, tearing or rupture of the speaker membrane may cause the speaker to no longer function and/or may enable water to reach and thereby damage other speaker components. Apple's latest invention tries to improve the speaker module to better withstand "tearing or rupturing" under pressure.
Apple notes that a speaker module may include a membrane formed from at least one waterproof and elastic material and a supporting structure. The membrane may include an outer surface, an inner surface, and at least one inwardly-extending region that is indented toward the inner surface.
The supporting structure may be coupled to the membrane and include a support structure that mates with the concave region of the membrane when the speaker is subjected to a hydrostatic load. In various implementations, the support structure may be shaped to correspond with a shape of the concave region. In this way, the membrane may be resistant to tearing or rupture due to hydrostatic load.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is an isometric view of an example of a waterproof speaker module.
As illustrated in FIG. 1, the example waterproof speaker module #100 may include a membrane #101, a supporting structure #114, a stiffening structure #104, a side magnet #105, a yoke (also called a "back plate") #106, a membrane ring #107, a voice coil #108, a top plate #109, a center magnet #110, and/or a sealing ring #111.
The membrane may include an inner surface #113, and outer surface #112, and at least one concave region #103. The concave region may be curved toward the inner surface of the membrane. Additionally, the supporting structure may include at least one support structure.
In the absence of a hydrostatic load on the example waterproof speaker module, the concave region may not contact the support structure. However, in the presence of a hydrostatic load on the example waterproof speaker module, the concave region may seal against the support structure and may support the membrane, thereby preventing tearing or rupturing of the membrane without interfering with movement of the voice coil and/or speaker components during operation. The shape of the concave region of the membrane may also provide strength to the membrane as the membrane including the concave regions is not a single flat plane.
In some implementations, the speaker module may utilize magnetic flux during operation (though in other implementations the speaker module may utilize other mechanisms for operation such as a piezoelectric speaker mechanism). In such an implementation, the supporting structure may be formed of a magnetic material (such as stainless steel) and may aid in the direction of the magnetic flux utilized for speaker module operation. Additionally in such implementations, a lid member may be attached to the top of a center magnet. Such a lid member may be operable to resist downward motion of the membrane and further aid in resistance of the membrane to tearing or rupture when subjected to hydrostatic load.
In one or more implementations, the membrane may include a stiffening structure coupled to at least a portion of the outer surface and/or the inner surface. As the membrane is made of an elastic material, the membrane may not be as sensitive to movement of the voice coil as membranes made of less elastic materials. The stiffening structure may be made of a rigid material and as such may assist in vibration of the membrane. In some implementations, the speaker module may include one or more catch mechanisms that are operable to restrict movement of the membrane away from internal portions of the speaker module to prevent internal pressure of the speaker module from tearing or rupturing the module.
In one or more implementations, the speaker module may not be hermetically sealed. As the speaker module may not be hermetically sealed, internal pressure of the speaker may be able to escape and may not cause the membrane to rupture or tear. In implementations where the speaker module is hermetically sealed, the speaker module may include a mechanism for releasing internal pressure of the speaker module when the internal pressure of the speaker module exceeds barometric pressure of the environment of the speaker module.
Designed for many Devices
In some cases, the waterproof speaker module may be incorporated into an electronic device such as a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a cellular telephone, a personal digital assistant, a mobile computer, a tablet computer, a digital media player, a wearable device, a smart phone, a display device, a television, a kitchen appliance, and/or any other electronic device.
For more details about Apple's invention, see patent application 20160212526. Some of Apple's inventors listed on the patent worked at companies such as JBL, GoerTek Audio Technologies, RIM, Cisco, Nokia and Bose. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Late last month Patently Apple posted a report titled "Another Apple Waterproofing Invention comes to Light."
The latest testing results for water resistance by SquareTrade, as noted below, showed that Samsung's latest Galaxy S7 was twice as waterproof as the old iPhone 6s and 3 times better than the iPhone 6s Plus. With Apple's latest invention revelations, the goal will be to dramatically improve waterproofing in the upcoming iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus to at least match the Samsung Galaxy S7's score if not better it.
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