Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a different method of construction iDevices like an iPhone. The design includes a multi-segment housing that includes multiple conductive segments that are structurally coupled by one or more non-conductive housing segments or splits. The non-conductive housing segment may be formed from a polymer having an array of fibers dispersed within the polymer.
Apple notes in their patent background that portable electronic devices have become more compact over the years. There is an increasing need to make housings that are both aesthetically pleasing and structurally robust. Some traditional housings are formed from a single material in order to simplify manufacturing and assembly. However, a single piece housings may not provide some of the structural and/or aesthetic benefits of a multi-segment housing.
The devices, housings, and components and the corresponding methods of manufacturing described in Apple's patent application may be used to improve the manufacturability and function of multi-segment housings while maintaining the benefits of multi-segment housings.
Apple's invention covers multi-segment housings that include multiple conductive segments that are structurally coupled by one or more non-conductive housing segments or splits.
One or more of the conductive segments may be configured to operate as an antenna and the non-conductive housing segments may provide electrical insulation between the conductive segment and one or more adjacent housing segments.
The non-conductive housing segment may be formed from a polymer having an array of fibers dispersed within. The fibers may be aligned along one or more fiber directions, which may be substantially perpendicular to an exterior surface of the housing.
Some example embodiments are directed to an electronic device having a display and a housing at least partially surrounding the display. The housing includes a first housing segment defining a first portion of an exterior sidewall of the housing and configured to operate as an antenna.
The housing also includes a second housing segment defining a second portion of the exterior sidewall of the housing. The housing also includes a non-conductive housing segment mechanically coupling the first housing segment to the second housing segment, electrically insulating the first housing segment from the second housing segment, and defining a third portion of the exterior sidewall of the housing.
The non-conductive housing segment is formed from or comprises a polymer material having an array of fibers that are substantially aligned along a fiber direction that is transverse to the third portion of the exterior sidewall.
In some embodiments, the array of fibers are located proximate to the third portion of the exterior sidewall, and the fiber direction is substantially perpendicular to the third portion of the exterior sidewall. In some embodiments, the third portion of the exterior sidewall of the housing has a polished surface and the polished surface is substantially free of non-encapsulated fibers.
In some example embodiments, the polymer material comprises one or more of polycarbonate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyether ether ketone (PEEK), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), or polyamide. In some example embodiments, the fiber comprises one or more of glass fiber, carbon fiber, or aramid fiber.
In some embodiments, the method also includes polishing the third portion of the exterior surface using an elastomer material thereby removing exposed ends of the array of fibers. In some embodiments, the method includes polishing the third portion of the exterior surface using a laser to ablate or melt exposed ends of the array of fibers.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a multi-segment housing for an electronic device that includes multiple conductive segments that are structurally coupled by one or more non-conductive housing segments or splits. The design supports bio-authentication sensor(s) for Touch ID ; FIG. 4 depicts an example implementation of housing segments joined using one or more non-conductive housing segments; FIG. 9 depicts an example process for manufacturing a multi-segment housing.
The touch sensor and/or force sensor may include an array of electrodes that are configured to detect a location and/or force of a touch using a capacitive, resistive, strain-based, or other sensing configuration. The touch sensing system may include, for example, a set of capacitive touch sensing elements, a set of resistive touch sensing elements, or a set of ultrasonic touch sensing elements. When a user of the device touches the cover, the touch sensor (or touch sensing system) may detect one or more touches on the cover and determine locations of the touches on the cover. The touches may include, for example, touches by a user's finger or stylus.
In some embodiments of the devices and housings described herein, multiple housing segments disposed along a sidewall of a device housing may be operated individually or simultaneously as antennas.
Although the main focus of the invention is a possible future iPhone with this new construction, Apple notes that the design could be used for a tablet computer, portable computer, portable music player, health monitor device, portable terminal, or other portable or mobile device.
Apple's patent application 20200076058 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in Q4 2018. For finer details, review the patent application in full here. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
For the record, anyone understanding patents knows that any part of a design that is illustrated with a dotted outline means that it is not a feature physically "seen." While this is more common in design patents, the principle remains the same. By illustrating a circle with a dotted outline clearly implies that there is a virtual biometrics area on the face of the proposed design construction.