Along with the clean new look of the iPhone 6 came the distracting antenna lines that some thought were stylish. While Apple has tried to tone them down a little for the iPhone 7, the antenna lines remain. Today's report covers Apple's invention that relates to how the antenna lines are formed for current and possible future iPhone designs. The location of future antennas may change as well. Apple's invention also supports previous patents about how a cellular antenna structure could be integrated into a future metal MacBook. Cellular antennas can't receive or transmit signals through metal and so Apple's invention details how they meld metal with non-metal materials together so as to form structures for antenna reception while keeping the device housing structures appealing for their customers.
Many computing devices have outer enclosures and coverings with metallic surfaces that give the device enclosures an aesthetically pleasing look and feel, as well as a high durability. Computing devices also generally include any of a number of complex functional components. For example, many mobile phones, tablets and laptops have radio frequency antennas that allow communication via radio frequency transmission.
One design challenge associated with computing devices is maintaining a sleek and consistent appearance of a metallic enclosure for housing the various complex internal components. Since metal is not radio frequency transmissive, metal is generally a poor choice of material when the devices utilize radio frequency transmission for communication.
In addition, metal is generally a high capacitive material, and as a result, not used to cover capacitive touch pads, touch screens and other capacitive sensors. Accordingly, portions of the enclosures that cover antennas and touch sensors are typically made of a non-metallic material such as plastic or glass.
Unfortunately, plastic surfaces and glass surfaces can have different visual and tactile qualities than metallic surfaces, which can result in a visible and tactile break in the metallic surface of the enclosures. These visible breaks can detract from the smooth and continuous look of the metallic enclosures.
Apple Invention: Methods for Electrically Isolating Areas of a Metal Device Body
Apple's invention generally relates to methods of forming unitary structures by rendering portions of a metal substrate non-conductive thereby creating conductive regions that are electrically isolated from each other. The methods can be use in various applications, including forming electrically isolated portions of electronic devices, such as enclosures and housing for electronic devices.
Method Applying to the iPhone 6 (6s and 7)
In the first example below the invention covers the construction of the iPhone 6 and technically the 6s and 7. The enclosure includes a unitary structure. The unitary structure includes a substrate formed of a metal and having a first portion electrically isolated from a second portion by an insulating portion formed of the metal having been rendered electrically insulative.
In Apple's patent FIG. 1B we're able to see the iPhone 6 enclosure #101 after portions of the enclosure are electrically separated. FIG. 1B shows a back view of an iPhone 6. As shown, electrically conductive or metal portions #F102, #104 and #106 are separated from one another by non-electrically conductive or non-metal portions #108 and #110.
Non-metal portions #108 and #110 can also be referred to as an electrically insulating portion. Non-metal portions #108 and #110 noted above on the iPhone 6 are the notable lines that are more apparent on the lighter colored iPhones and almost invisible in the new iPhone 7 black models. It's likely why the new iPhone 7 models are more popular.
Non-metal portions #108 and #110 can be RF transparent in order to allow transmission of RF signals to and/or from antenna(s) housed within enclosure. In this way, non-metal portions #108 and #110 can sometimes be referred to as RF windows, segments or lines. RF transparent materials can be non-conductive materials such as glass, plastic or ceramic (e.g. metal oxide).
In some embodiments, non-metal portions #108 and #110 and metal portions #102, #104 and #106 are molded together using a molding process. In some embodiments, a co-extrusion and molding operation are used in combination. The co-extruding and/or molding process can be customized such that any seams between non-metal portions #108 and #110 and metal portions #102, #104 and #106 are visually and tactilely unperceivable to a user of the iPhone. .
In some embodiments, non-metal portions #108 and #110 are formed by converting selected portions of the iPhone enclosure to a corresponding metal oxide using an oxidizing process, such as anodizing or PEO.
Metal oxide is generally non-conductive and sufficiently RF transparent to allow RF signals to pass therethrough, and therefore can be used as a suitable RF window or segment material for an iPhone. Since the oxidizing process is a conversion process, non-metal portions #108 and #110 can be integrally formed with metal portions #102, #104 and #106 such that transitions between non-metal portions #108 and #110 and metal portions #102, #104 and #106 are virtually seamless. This can improve the look and feel of an iPhone enclosure.
In addition, the manufacturing process for forming the iPhone's enclosure can be simplified since the enclosure can be formed from a single metal piece instead of three separate pieces.
Method Applying to a MacBook
In September Patently Apple posted a report titled "A New Apple Patent Shows their Renewed Interest in a Cellular MacBook," wherein we illustrated an Apple patent figure as noted above where new cellular antenna holes could allow for RF transmissions for an antenna. In this week's patent application Apple describes patent FIG. 2 as being micro holes placed into a metal body like a MacBook that would allow for a cellular antenna.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shows part or structure #200 that can be part of an electronic component of a larger electronic device like a MacBook. The structure includes a metal substrate #201, which can correspond to a metal material that can form a durable oxide, such as aluminum or aluminum alloy.
In some embodiments, the metal substrate is treated such that portions #202 are oxidized to a corresponding non-electrically conductive metal oxide material. Non-conductive portions #202 can be formed through an entire thickness of metal substrate #201, and can surround metal portions #204 such that metal portions are electrically isolated from one another. Metal portions #204 can be arranged in a predetermined pattern, such as an array or grid. For example, metal portions #204 can be arranged in accordance with a sensor array with each metal portion #204 corresponding to a position of a sensor. Non-conductive portions #202 electrically isolate each metal portion #204 such that the sensor array can function independently. In some embodiments, metal portions #204 can function as button sensors.
Possible Future iPhone Antenna Locations
The last example relates to a possible future iPhone that integrates different antenna locations and/or shapes.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 illustrated below shows us a perspective view of substrate #500 after undergoing an oxidizing process. The substrate can be part of an enclosure for an electronic device, such as a mobile telephone. The substrate includes metal portions 502, 504, 506, 508 separated by intervening metal oxide portions 510, 512, 514.
Metal oxide portions 510, 512, 514 can be electrically non-conductive and RF transparent. Thus, in some embodiments, metal oxide portions 510, 512, 514 can serve as RF windows or RF transparent segments/lines.
Metal oxide material can have a different appearance than metal. In particular, metal oxide material can have a more translucent quality compared to metal.
In some applications, it is desirable for intervening metal oxide portions 510, 512, 514 to appear similar to metal portions 502, 504, 506, 508. Thus, in some embodiments, metal oxide portions 510, 512, 514 can be dyed or colorized to appear similar in color to metal portions 502, 504, 506, 508.
Apple's patent application 20160302319, which surfaced at the U.S. Patent Office on October 13, 2016 was filed by Apple back in Q4 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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