Apple granted patent for embedding sapphire displays in LiquidMetal iPhone chassis

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2014
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued Apple a patent describing a process in which an iPhone's display glass -- including sapphire -- is integrally joined with a bezel made out of amorphous metal alloy, namely LiquidMetal.



Although the patent is over six years old, its granting comes on the heels of news that Apple has extended exclusive contract rights to use LiquidMetal in consumer electronics through 2015. Up to this point, the only known use for the exotic material, classified as a bulk amorphous alloy, has been a SIM card ejector tool.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,738,104 for "Methods and systems for integrally trapping a glass insert in a metal bezel" harkens back to the origins of LiquidMetal, which first saw limited use in 2003 in medical equipment, sporting goods and military applications.

At the time of the patent's earliest related property filing in 2007, the iPhone's display was attached to a then-plastic chassis using a shock-absorbing rubberized gasket. The construction method helped alleviate sudden impacts when a phone is dropped and has been used in subsequent iPhone models up to the current iPhone 5s.

Aside from providing damping, the rubber or synthetic gasket allows for a higher tolerance in terms of fit between the glass and surrounding chassis. Apple's recently granted patent provides a way to sidestep this process by integrally forming glass, including sapphire, into a metal member such as an iPhone's bezel.


Cross-section view of glass surrounded by liquid metal bezel. | Source: USPTO


The document notes that a number of methods can be employed to form a bezel around a glass insert with tolerances tight enough as to provide adequate system stability and protection. Specifically, metal injection molding (MIM) can be applied.

Instead of plastic, the material traditionally associated with injection molding, the patent uses metal in liquid form. Chief among alloy candidates is LiquidMetal, which behaves like a plastic and carries thermal properties advantageous to the MIM process. In some cases the thermal properties of select glass and metal materials can be matched to aid in production.



What Apple proposes is the injection of LiquidMetal around a glass or sapphire substrate. The liquid metal flows through a mold's cavity that contains the transparent material and hardens at a predetermined rate of contraction, "grabbing" the glass and eliminating tolerance issues. Glass edges can be beveled or contain channels to enhance the joining process.

The resulting structure is an integrally formed display assembly.

In another embodiment, a synthetic gasket like those used in current iPhone display structures can be employed to the edge of a glass member prior to LiquidMetal injection. In this case, the gasket can be any compliant material, including rubber and plastic synthetics.


Cross-section of gasket insertion between metal and glass.


The remainder of the document covers various mold types and alternative MIM procedures, as well as methods of finishing the integrated assembly via sandblasting or polishing. Both text and illustrations included in the property's description point to use in an iPhone, though the technology can feasibly be applied to a smaller product such as the much-rumored iWatch.

It is unclear if Apple plans to roll out an iPhone made with substantial amounts of LiquidMetal, though a near-future release is unlikely. The company is currently working to ramp up its supply of sapphire for what many believe will be an "iPhone 6" display. Rumors of mass LiquidMetal production, which would need to be significant for a product like the iPhone, have not been reported.

Apple's integrated LiquidMetal iPhone display assembly patent was first filed for in 2008 and credits Kyle H. Yeates as its inventor.
«1

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Why does this article assume it's for the iPhone and not for other products? Frankly I think the wrist-worn device using LiquidMetal and Sapphire seems like a much better fit than the iPhone for these technologies. Did this 2007 patent even mention sapphire?
  • Reply 2 of 35

    Patent mentions iPhone by name and includes illustrations of iPhone/iPod devices. Filing is from 2008, so iWatch may have been only a blip on the radar at that point, but -- as with all patents -- Apple hedges its bets and notes the tech can be applied to other devices.

     

    Added a sentence to clarify. 

  • Reply 3 of 35
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,153member
    Me thinks Apple still has many innovations in development to wow us with.
  • Reply 4 of 35
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member
    Quote:


    Did this 2007 patent even mention sapphire?


     

    It does mention sapphire by name(see quote below), but the context is to remove any distinction that the patent be limited to glass. That said it does give a certain priority to sapphire over plastic, despite plastic being more prevalent and a more obvious candidate for the application. (E.G. Apple's history in polycarbonate at the time.)

     

     

    Quote:


    Although an integral assembly typically includes glass, it should be appreciated that an integral assembly may instead include substantially any suitable transparent material. In general, a suitable transparent material may include any synthetic transparent material, as for example, synthetic sapphire. As previously mentioned, an integral assembly may also include a transparent material such as plastic.


  • Reply 5 of 35
    stargazerctstargazerct Posts: 227member
    >Me thinks Apple still has many innovations in development to wow us with.

    @realistic%u2026according to the clueless analysts, you would be wrong and Apple is nothing but a slow growth, dried-up technology company that has closed its R&D department.

    Like you, I believe otherwise and think Apple is about to embark on its next chapter.
  • Reply 6 of 35
    shogunshogun Posts: 362member
    I still think sapphire and lqmt are bound for the new iPod first (iWatch). My guess is the 6s gets sapphire and the iPhone 7 is finally amorphous metal, namely liquidmetal.
  • Reply 7 of 35
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Hmm...this patent was filed in 2008.
  • Reply 8 of 35
    stuffestuffe Posts: 392member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Hmm...this patent was filed in 2008.

     

    I presume that was what they meant in the article when they said "Although the patent is over six years old" in paragraph 2 ;)

  • Reply 9 of 35
    ronmgronmg Posts: 163member

    Reading this is a bit scary when thinking about user replacement of broken screens!!

     

    So, how does one replace a broken screen when the screen is embedded in liquidmetal?  Maybe with a sapphire screen there will be less scratching and breakage, but still there will be cases when you need to replace it.

  • Reply 10 of 35
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,174member
    ronmg wrote: »
    Reading this is a bit scary when thinking about user replacement of broken screens!!

    So, how does one replace a broken screen when the screen is embedded in liquidmetal?  Maybe with a sapphire screen there will be less scratching and breakage, but still there will be cases when you need to replace it.

    If that's your worry, buy insurance.
  • Reply 11 of 35
    ryan96ryan96 Posts: 11member
    This is something I've been thinking about recently because the plastic around the display on the 5s and previous iPhones is the part that gets discolored and dented the most. I'm glad to see they are also thinking about it.
  • Reply 12 of 35
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,526member
    ryan96 wrote: »
    This is something I've been thinking about recently because the plastic around the display on the 5s and previous iPhones is the part that gets discolored and dented the most. I'm glad to see they are also thinking about it.

    Are you referring to the bezel, the little shiny edge around the screen? If you are, we have a surprise for you.
  • Reply 13 of 35
    wigbywigby Posts: 692member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by RonMG View Post

     

    Reading this is a bit scary when thinking about user replacement of broken screens!!

     

    So, how does one replace a broken screen when the screen is embedded in liquidmetal?  Maybe with a sapphire screen there will be less scratching and breakage, but still there will be cases when you need to replace it.


    You don't. Just like you don't replace your iPhone 5s screen now. Apple does with special machines they have custom built in the back of the Apple store. Yes, some 3rd parties will come along and replicate that replacement process but you will pay near what Apple charges and void your warranty in the process. So nothing has or will change from the previous 3 generations of iPhone for consumers.

  • Reply 14 of 35
    ryan96ryan96 Posts: 11member
    flaneur wrote: »
    Are you referring to the bezel, the little shiny edge around the screen? If you are, we have a surprise for you.
    No I was talking about the "gasket" the plastic between the glass and the metal body of the phone.
  • Reply 15 of 35
    danielswdanielsw Posts: 906member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by RonMG View Post

     

    Reading this is a bit scary when thinking about user replacement of broken screens!!

     

    So, how does one replace a broken screen when the screen is embedded in liquidmetal?  Maybe with a sapphire screen there will be less scratching and breakage, but still there will be cases when you need to replace it.


    Perhaps you'll be scared enough to start caring for your possessions better so as to prevent them getting damaged.

  • Reply 16 of 35
    ronmgronmg Posts: 163member

    Thank you for being a complete and utter jerk, DanielSW.  For your information, I do care for my stuff very well.  I have yet to break an iPhone screen in all the years Verizon has carried the iPhone.  I was just asking a simple question.

  • Reply 17 of 35
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,510member
    Fascinating! So they are indeed looking to use liquidmetal with sapphire! Seamless too.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    ronmgronmg Posts: 163member

    wigby, I understand Apple does that now, but I am curious how it would be done if the glass is 'grabbed' by the liquidmetal.  Perhaps Apple can work it so that the liquidmetal back/glass-sapphire front is one piece, and all the iPhone 'guts' are in an assembly that slides into the one-piece body.  Or maybe the grabbing can be released so that the new glass/sapphire screen can more easily slide into the body.  Who knows, but fun and interesting to think about it.  I've replaced an iPod touch screen a few generations back after my daughter broke hers, but given the current generations of iDevices, I probably won't be attempting that anymore.

  • Reply 19 of 35
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    The Galaxy S6 keeps sounding better and better.

    Keep the patents coming Apple.

    -Samsung
  • Reply 20 of 35
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DanielSW View Post

     

    Perhaps you'll be scared enough to start caring for your possessions better so as to prevent them getting damaged.


     

    accidents happen, surely even to super-humans such as yourself. (for example, somebody punching you in the gut as youre gabbing on your phone in the elevator, causing you to drop it...a terrible, terrible accident.)

Sign In or Register to comment.