With two generations of iPhones having the same form factors under their wings, Apple is expected to level up with its sixth-generation smartphone and boast a new build with a possibility of using new materials. A little-known alloy which Apple has been using for the past two years could be just the thing to catch consumers’ attention.
On Wednesday, Korea IT News reported that the iPhone 5 could possibly be encased in Liquidmetal, an alloy composed of a variety of metals including titanium, zirconium, nickel, and copper. According to the report, the alloy would make the surface of the next-generation iPhone’s casing “smooth like liquid”.
“The next iPhone needs to truly stand out from the crowd,” analyst Chris Jones from Canalys said in an email. “A change in materials is a likely way to differentiate its form factor.”
Liquidmetal was discovered in 1992 at the California Institute of Technology. It belongs to the patented amorphous metal alloys category (basically metallic glass), which has unique properties such as high strength, high wear resistance against scratching and denting, and a good strength-to-weight ratio.
“Liquidmetal allows precision parts to be fabricated similar to plastic injection molding, but with similar injection properties to metal,” says Kevin Keller, principal analyst at IHS.
In comparison to die-casting using inferior alloys, a method commonly used nowadays in the utilization of metal for electronic gadgets, the use of Liquidmetal vouches for better wear resistance and strength. However, the alloy’s injection molding process is a relatively new technology.
Apple procured rights to use it in August 2010. For several years, Apple – as well as other manufacturers – has been using the Liquidmetal in its products. In fact, the SIM card ejector tool in some North American first-generation iPads was made of Liquidmetal. According to Keller, the alloy has since been used in several other internal parts and small mechanical components.
“We expect Apple and other manufacturers to start using this not only for larger and more visible portions of devices, but also entire enclosures,” says Keller. Hence, iPhones clad in Liquidmetal chassis are entirely possible.
On the other hand, another Asia-based report says that the next iPhone may use a new touch panel technology that would allow for a lighter device.
Reports say that an improvement in production “yield rates” of “in-cell touch panels” has pushed Apple to begin working with Japan-based Sharp and a division of Toshiba.
The technology, known as In-Cell Multitouch Technology, incorporates touch into the manufacturing process of thin-film transistor (TFT) liquid crystal displays, thereby needing additional sensors and glass. This, in turn, reduces the net weight of the device.
This technology is to be featured in a display conference to be held in Taiwan. Meanwhile, in-cell touch panels have been the center of discussion for companies such as AUO, which have been talking about this technology for a few years.
The report adds that Japanese companies will increase production in the second quarter and Apple’s next-generation iPhone could come out in the third quarter this year.