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Here’s how Apple will make Jet Black iPhones of the future unscratchable

February 3rd, 2017 at 12:15 PM
Jet Black iPhone Scratches

Multiple reports say the iPhone 8 will feature a glass sandwich design, meaning that the front and rear panels of the handset will be made of glass, with a stainless steel chassis sandwiched between them. Apple is said to be moving away from metal unibodies and back to glass so that it can bring wireless charging to the iPhone 8, which could be one of the phone’s new flagship features. But in the future, Apple might employ ceramics in its iPhones, a material that’s supposed to be even more durable than glass or aluminum. In fact, a Jet Black iPhone made of ceramics might not scratch as easily as the Jet Black iPhone 7 does, or even at all.

One report argued that Apple will surely make the move to zirconia ceramic for the iPhone, a material it already uses on the Apple Watch. Others made a strong case against Apple using such ceramics for the iPhone. But a new patent application indicates that Apple is very serious about making use of ceramics in its products.

iphone-sapphire-zirconia-ceramics-body-laser-polish-patent-2Image source: Apple via USPTO

First discovered by Patently Apple, the patent in question is titled Laser Polishing Ceramic Material. Published for public consumption on Thursday, the patent was actually filed on July 29th 2015, which proves Apple has been looking at making ceramic casings for its devices for quite a while. The patent mentions sapphire alongside zirconia — in fact, it mostly details how the company’s laser-based polishing technique would polish sapphire components that would go into the iPhone.

In case you forgot, Apple wanted to use sapphire instead of glass displays on the iPhone 6, but those plans fell through. It turns out making the kind of sapphire Apple needs, both when it comes to quantity and quality, proved to be difficult and time-consuming.

“Corundum is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide and may be found in various colors, many of which are generally referred to as sapphire,” Apple explains, as it briefly details why sapphire would be a great material for mobile devices. “In general, sapphire is a hard and strong material with a hardness of 9.0 on the Mohs scale, and, as such, is capable of scratching nearly all other minerals. Because of its hardness and strength, sapphire may be an attractive alternative to other translucent materials like polycarbonate.”

The company continued, “However, due in part to its inherent properties, manufacturing components out of sapphire may be difficult in high-volume manufacturing conditions. In particular, sapphire’s hardness makes polishing the material both difficult and time-consuming particularly if the component includes contoured surfaces or features.”

iphone-sapphire-zirconia-ceramics-body-laser-polish-patent-1Image source: Apple via USPTO

Apple’s invention details ways in which the various sapphire components would be polished using lasers, including components that have non-planar surfaces.

What’s interesting about the patent is that it features images that clearly show an iPhone, as seen above. Furthermore, the patent indicates that it’s not just the display that would be made of sapphire. The rear case of the phone, the home button, and the camera glass would also be made of sapphire.

This iPhone could still have a glass sandwich design that would not only enable wireless charging, but it would also survive hard drops and probably would not scratch no matter how hard you try. Such an iPhone might not even need a protective case, and a Jet Black version of the handset could remain in pristine condition for a long period of time. In the meantime, Apple’s current Jet Black finish is basically a nightmare.

As always with patents, there’s no telling when or even if Apple will actually use the technology it describes in this application, especially considering that nobody is manufacturing the kind of sapphire glass Apple needs before it can actually start polishing it with laser.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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