Apple investigating reinforced plastic as case material for future Apple Watch

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2020
While the device's chief components would remain the same, future Apple Watches may come with a housing that is made in part from plastic and ceramic fibers.

This is a ceramic Apple Watch Series 5. Future ones may use a cheaper ceramic fibre weave for the main body
This is a ceramic Apple Watch Series 5. Future ones may use a cheaper ceramic fibre weave for the main body


Apple is looking to expand its base of Apple Watch users by working toward a version that should be cheaper to produce than the previous models which typically used stainless steel or aluminum. So far the Apple Watch has been presented with the same internal design, but a housing made from anything from that previously mentioned aluminum to titanium and even gold in the first version. The proposed new housing would be chiefly made from ceramic fibers.

Ceramic fibers are different to the ceramic casings Apple has occasionally used on the Apple Watch. Typically it's a material that is used in insulation, or in reinforcing other materials. A new patent application proposes using a weave made of ceramic fibers to produce a housing that is strong enough to protect the Watch, but cheaper to produce.

The application, "Ceramic Weave for Low-Cost, Structural, Antenna-Permeable Watch Case," explains why the choice of material for a housing is important.

"Certain materials can provide a desired level of performance with respect to some properties, but not others," it says. "For example, a metal housing can be strong and tough, but can provide varying levels of electromagnetic shielding. A plastic housing can be electromagnetically transparent, but can have lower levels of strength, toughness, and abrasion resistance. Ceramic materials can be stronger than plastic, but can be more expensive to form and machine."

Detail from the patent showing the Apple Watch housing as distinct from the front face
Detail from the patent showing the Apple Watch housing as distinct from the front face


Equally of concern to the strength of the housing and of the cost to make it, is this business of being able to successfully pass radio or electromagnetic signals through it. The solution to getting the optimum results for the optimum cost, suggests Apple, is to use a composite material.

"In some cases, the ceramic material can include ceramic fibers that can be arranged in a pattern, such as a weave pattern," it continues. "A matrix material, such as a resin or epoxy, can partially, substantially, or entirely surround the ceramic fibers such that the ceramic fiber weave can be embedded in the matrix material."

"In some cases, the ceramic fibers can serve to amplify or reduce interference, attenuation, or shielding of wireless signals received or transmitted by the antenna."

The majority of the patent application takes this central idea and then details many specifics concerning what elements of a housing could be made from this material. It also goes into detail about how the whole device could be assembled, and how different components could be manufactured.

"A composite component, as discussed herein, can be or can form all or a portion of a component, such as a housing, for an electronic device," it concludes. "The composite component can also be or form any number of additional components of an electronic device, including internal components, external components, cases, surfaces, or partial surfaces."

So it's possible that different elements of a future Apple Watch, including its internal components, may be supported by this cheaper material. But the overall aim is to reduce the cost of the whole housing, to allow for a cheaper Apple Watch that remains strong enough to withstand reasonable use.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    neilmneilm Posts: 925member
    Well, if Richard Mille can make watches with composite cases and sell them for hundreds of thousands of dollars, why not Apple? ;-)

    (Ref: https://www.richardmille.com/collections/rm-50-03-tourbillon-chronograph-mclaren-f1)
    rossb2watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 22
    Unapologetically plastic
    larryawatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 22
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,504member
    I see nothing wrong with this - they’ve made iPhones with plastic cases before and honestly, you can barely see the case for the Apple Watch, anyway. Glass fiber-reinforced nylon is quite strong and has been used for years. I’m sure a ceramic fiber reinforced case would be just as strong if not stronger. As long as it’s strong enough and rigid enough why not?
    pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 22
    larryalarrya Posts: 583member
    Hey, lighter is better when you're trying to measure heart rate and don't want bouncing around.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 408member
    " the previous models which typically used stainless steel" - Isn't the "typical" (as in most sold) Apple Watch made from aluminum?  I'm desperately trying to make a magnet stick to mine....nope, no stainless steel in its body.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 22
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,112member
    I wonder what the connection is between this possible change and 5G?   Will a 5G watch require the improved reception enabled by this change?

    I doubt we will see a 5G watch by this September.  But by Sept 2021 4G will fast becoming the 3G of today -- particularly in those countries who are rolling out 5G in a massive, country wide way today.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,706member
    I'd welcome a cheaper, more colorful "C" version of Watches.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 22
    bengbeng Posts: 34member
    My concern is the constant microwave radiation on the wrist.  We now live in a soup of radiation from radio, TV, cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi,  etc.  The higher the frequency (5G), the more damaging to tissue.  Children are the most sensitive/vulnerable.
     
    Several years ago an article appeared about a woman who kept her cellphone in her bra near her neck.  That is exactly where she developed cancer.
  • Reply 9 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,348administrator
    beng said:
    My concern is the constant microwave radiation on the wrist.  We now live in a soup of radiation from radio, TV, cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi,  etc.  The higher the frequency (5G), the more damaging to tissue.  Children are the most sensitive/vulnerable.
     
    Several years ago an article appeared about a woman who kept her cellphone in her bra near her neck.  That is exactly where she developed cancer.
    The bolded is a false statement.
    StrangeDaysGeorgeBMacrossb2fastasleepsphericwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 22
    WgkruegerWgkrueger Posts: 351member
    beng said:
    My concern is the constant microwave radiation on the wrist.  We now live in a soup of radiation from radio, TV, cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi,  etc.  The higher the frequency (5G), the more damaging to tissue.  Children are the most sensitive/vulnerable.
     
    Several years ago an article appeared about a woman who kept her cellphone in her bra near her neck.  That is exactly where she developed cancer.
    I kept my cell phone in my pants pocket until my leg fell off. Just sayin. 
    StrangeDaysGeorgeBMacrossb2pscooter63fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 22
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,861member
    beng said:
    We now live in a soup of radiation from radio, TV, cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi,  etc.  The higher the frequency (5G), the more damaging to tissue.  Children are the most sensitive/vulnerable.
     
    Another tin-hat customer pushing opinions as fact.  This has been disproven countless of times, yet people like you continue to come out of the woodwork, read some obscure website with fancy fonts, by some quasi-home-scientist and run with it.

    Funny how people like you will criticize others for ignoring true science for things like climate change, yet turn right around and spew your "5G = cancer" nonsense.

    I suggest you fabricate a new hat with thicker tin foil.
    StrangeDaysrossb2pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 22
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,791member
    The weave or mesh sounds like concrete reinforcement - same principle anyway. I used a 1" carbon fiber mesh in place of rebar and wire to reinforce some concrete countertops I made years ago. Not a crack to be seen on any of them. I certainly would consider buying such a case. Although, a composite like the one described would most likely not be recycleable, unlike stainless or aluminum.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,862member
    tjwolf said:
    " the previous models which typically used stainless steel" - Isn't the "typical" (as in most sold) Apple Watch made from aluminum?  I'm desperately trying to make a magnet stick to mine....nope, no stainless steel in its body.
    Since Day 1 the AW has shipped in both aluminum and stainless steel (my preferred models). The third material used has varied. That’s why the quote was “which typically used stainless steel or aluminum”
    edited March 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 22
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,862member

    I wonder what the connection is between this possible change and 5G?   Will a 5G watch require the improved reception enabled by this change?

    I doubt we will see a 5G watch by this September.  But by Sept 2021 4G will fast becoming the 3G of today -- particularly in those countries who are rolling out 5G in a massive, country wide way today.
    I doubt there’s much rush. What could is faster data on the AW? Texts and voice calls don’t benefit. I have never even used the LTE on my last two, not even once. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 22
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,862member

    beng said:
    My concern is the constant microwave radiation on the wrist.  We now live in a soup of radiation from radio, TV, cell phones, GPS, Wi-Fi,  etc.  The higher the frequency (5G), the more damaging to tissue.  Children are the most sensitive/vulnerable.
     
    Several years ago an article appeared about a woman who kept her cellphone in her bra near her neck.  That is exactly where she developed cancer.
    An anecdotal cancer story is worthless. Millions of us keep our phones in our pants pockets, without issue. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 22
    How does this fit in with Apple's goal of using only sustainable, recyclable materials in their products? Composites aren't known for being recyclable.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,112member

    I wonder what the connection is between this possible change and 5G?   Will a 5G watch require the improved reception enabled by this change?

    I doubt we will see a 5G watch by this September.  But by Sept 2021 4G will fast becoming the 3G of today -- particularly in those countries who are rolling out 5G in a massive, country wide way today.
    I doubt there’s much rush. What could is faster data on the AW? Texts and voice calls don’t benefit. I have never even used the LTE on my last two, not even once. 

    I rely on my watch for communication during runs where I leave my phone in the car -- not that I make calls on it so much as being able to make a call (like to 911) if I need to.  And now with summer coming that will happen more and more often as I am outside more without a phone.

    I am finding that, with my LTE watch, I only use my phone for things that I used to use a computer for.   Essentially, the phone mostly replaced the computer and the watch is now mostly replacing the phone.   Of the three, the watch is maybe not getting the most "screen time" but it does get the most "looks" during the day -- and, for that matter at night because I sleep with it on.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 22
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 577member
    tjwolf said:
    " the previous models which typically used stainless steel" - Isn't the "typical" (as in most sold) Apple Watch made from aluminum?  I'm desperately trying to make a magnet stick to mine....nope, no stainless steel in its body.
    The springs in the link bracelet are magnetic, as is most of the steel in the Milanese loop, but the steel in the watch body is not.

    welshdog said:
    The weave or mesh sounds like concrete reinforcement - same principle anyway. I used a 1" carbon fiber mesh in place of rebar and wire to reinforce some concrete countertops I made years ago. Not a crack to be seen on any of them. I certainly would consider buying such a case. Although, a composite like the one described would most likely not be recycleable, unlike stainless or aluminum.
    That's exactly it. Ultimately, ceramic just means inorganic, so they're probably talking basalt fibers. Depending on the plastic used, it could be at least partially recyclable.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 22
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    A carbon fiber case might be kind of neat.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,023member
    It would be interesting if Apple could modularize and shrink the guts (core) of the Watch to the point where end users could replace the case of the watch themselves and upgrade existing versions of a Watch with a new core. My Apple Watch 0 has the stainless steel case with sapphire crystal. It looks as pristine as my new Series 5 Apple Watch. The only issue with it is the slowness of the core and its inability to run newer apps. I realize that it would be challenging to build a two-piece Watch that looks as seamless as the current one, but it’s doable. Of course the core component would have to be water/dust/shock proof, but since it’s no longer an aesthetic part of the Watch other than the crystal, it could be far simpler. 
    watto_cobra
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