For a long time, we’ve dreamed of the day that Apple would launch a radically redesigned iPhone that will ditch all physical buttons, pack a wraparound curved display, and incorporate Liquidmetal into its hardware design.
Liquidmetal has long been seen as a mythical material that we had once expected to see used more widely in Apple products. So far, however, Apple’s engineers have, only used Liquidmetal as the primary material for the iPhone’s SIM ejector tool. Even so, Apple is still interested in the material, and the company just won a patent that details how it could be used.
Found by Patently Apple, a new patent titled “Bulk amorphous alloy pressure sensor” describes means for using Liquidmetal to improve the mechanism that makes home button presses possible. The patent explains that Liquidmetal could be used for internal components to improve precision, tactile feedback, but also to prevent wear and tear over time.
Apple also offers a few interesting explanations about the kind of device this technology would serve:
Display screen 16 (e.g., a touch screen) is merely one example of an input-output device that may be used with electronic device 10. […] Button 19 may be, for example, a menu button. Port 20 may contain a 30-pin data connector (as an example). Buttons, for some devices, are designed for receipt of a human finger. As such, it may be desirable for the buttons to have a design and size to receive a human finger or thumb. […] In the example of FIG. 4, display screen 16 is shown as being mounted on the front face of handheld electronic device 10, but display screen 16 may, if desired, be mounted on the rear face of handheld electronic device 10, on a side of device 10, on a flip-up portion of device 10 that is attached to a main body portion of device 10 by a hinge (for example), or using any other suitable mounting arrangement.
A user of electronic device 10 may supply input commands using user input interface devices such as button 19 and touch screen 16. Touch screen 16 may be replaced with a display screen with a plurality of buttons positioned underneath the screen, each button optionally being designed in a manner similar to button 19. […] Although shown schematically as being formed on the top face of electronic device 10 in the example of FIG. 4, buttons such as button 19 and other user input interface devices may generally be formed on any suitable portion of electronic device 10. For example, a button such as button 19 or other user interface control may be formed on the side of electronic device 10. Buttons and other user interface controls can also be located on the top face, rear face, or other portion of device 10.
The wording in the highlighted parts above seem to suggest that Apple is covering all bases with this particular patent, without revealing too many details about a radical iPhone redesign. However, all drawings depict a more traditional iPhone complete with the traditional home button that’s been a staple of the device for years.
The patent application was filed in summer of 2012, well ahead of 3D Touch’s emergence, but the drawing above does mention a pressure-sensitive layer placed underneath the glass cover. Of course, this Liquidmetal-based technology could also be used for any other Apple device that has buttons, including iPads and Macs.