Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Apple and LiquidMetal: A potential design game-changer?

Apple has a history of going with unorthodox and industry first design material. Be it the iconic aluminium iPhone (1st generation) or the super-strong aluminosilicate material used for helicopter windscreens that featured in the iPhone 4 or the latest iPhone 5s that has Sapphire crystal, Apple has always set a benchmark for the industry in terms of design. Continuing this trend, Apple has obtained exclusive rights to use liquidmetal in the domain of consumer electronics. Will this be as impactful as its predecessors? Only time will tell but we can analyze the possible impacts of the infusion of such design material into a mainstream device.

The major advantage is the reduced manufacturing time. This is because of the high precision casting capabilities of this material that requires little or absolutely no machining afterwards. The other advantages include scratch resistance, light weight, ability to be cast into multiple forms and corrosion resistance. Apple has filled a lot of patents that utilize this design technology and just a couple of weeks back, a new batch of 17 patents were published. Apple does this discretely by publishing it in the name of its investors and employees. Few of these patent publications are listed below.

1. Pressure Sensors - The use of this technology offers brilliant durability to buttons even under frequent use. The figure also resembles the iconic apple home button. 

2. Tamper Resistant Screws - They are intended to restrict unauthorized access.

3. Substrate for Touch Sensors - Increase in the touch sensitive arrays that would in turn reflect in the touch precision and control of the touch screen.

My take on this is simple. Apple's design principles have always been jaw-dropping and mesmerizing. I still remember the first time that I saw an iPhone. It was love at first sight! Not just the looks but the way it feels as a whole product and the attention to detail is impeccable. But the major challenge would be to bring the cost of the liquidmetal down. This is hard given the fact that it contains a lot of the materials such as the exotic Beryllium and the expensive platinum to name a few. Hence the impact of liquidmetal would truly depend on the extend of its incorporation into the product. I don't see it replacing the widely used aluminium and glass at least in the near future.

1. http://www.macrumors.com/2014/01/13/liquidmetal-buttons-sensors-screws/
2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/11/apple-liquidmetal-license_n_678591.html

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