Why we shouldn't get too excited about a 'Liquidmetal' iPhone 5

Why we shouldn't get too excited about a 'Liquidmetal' iPhone 5

Summary: A Liquidmetal iPhone 5 would be a near indestructible piece of kit, right? Wrong.

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The shell of the iPhone 4 and 4S is constructed of robust stainless steel sandwiched between two sheets of fragile glass. It's a revolutionary design, but one that has caused a lot of heartache and expense for owners.

According to a rumor that surfaced last week, this could change with the next-generation iPhone, where the vulnerable rear glass panel will be replaced with a robust Liquidmetal shell.

Liquidmetal is the commercial name given to an amorphous metal alloy that is almost twice as strong as the strongest titanium alloys. It was developed by Caltech in 2003 and has been used in a broad range of military, medical, luxury, consumer, industrial, and sporting goods products.

In August 2012, Apple acquired a license to use this material, but has yet to use it for anything more exciting than the iPhone's SIM card eject tool.

I've come across Liquidmetal before: a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB flash drive. SanDisk also used Liquidmetal in the construction of the now long defunct Sensa e200 media player.

It's incredibly tough stuff, and I really tested the durability of that flash drive. Short of taking a hammer to it, I could barely put a scratch, let alone a dent, in the thin shell surrounding the drive's delicate electronics.

There's no doubt that Liquidmetal is incredibly tough stuff. You might think that a Liquidmetal iPhone 5 would be a near-indestructible piece of kit?

Wrong.


Image Gallery: What is Liquidmetal used for? Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge
To begin with, one side of iPhone is still made up of exposed glass, and let's face it, the screen is far more expensive -- not to mention more difficult -- to replace that the rear cover is. But there's also a weird property of Liquidmetal that means a dropped Liquidmetal iPhone could suffer more damage than if the back were made of glass.

Liquidmetal is, as you can see from the video below, excellent at storing elastic energy. This, to you and me, means the material likes to bounce about with Flubber-like vigor when dropped.

I've seen this property in action. That SanDisk Cruzer Titanium flash drive I had would bounce enthusiastically whenever dropped onto a hard surface. A bouncing flash drive is one thing, but a bouncing iPhone is another, and likely to suffer more overall damage than one that just thuds to the ground because each bounce is another chance for gravity to break the screen.

I don't think that it is Liquidmetal's indestructibility that Apple is interested in, because let's face it, Apple doesn't have a track record of building robust devices, but instead the material's high strength-to-weight ratio that interests the Apple engineers.

This property means that you can cast a shell out of Liquidmetal that's much thinner than a shell stamped out of a sheet of metal, as was the case with the early iPhones, or machined out of a block of aluminium, which is how Apple manufactures the shells of devices such as the MacBooks or iPads. A thinner shell means less space taken up per unit volume by the casing, which in turn leaves more space for the important stuff that goes inside the device.

But there's one property of Liquidmetal that no one seems to have considered. How transparent is this material to radio frequencies?

If the material doesn't allow for effective passage of radio frequencies, moving all the iPhone's antennas -- GSM, CDMA, UMTS, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth -- inside a Liquidmetal shell doesn't make sense. I've had a look through the tech specs for the material but can't find anything relating to this. I've put a question in to Liquidmetal Technologies about radio frequency transmission, and will update this post if I get an answer.

Image credit: Liquidmetal Technologies.

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Image Gallery: Top accessories for your iPhone and iPad Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones

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53 comments
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  • Why we shouldn't get too excited about a 'Liquidmetal' iPhone 5

    I'm not excited about the new iPhone 5.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • That's because you are in no way an excitement machine

      But you already knew that.
      ego.sum.stig
      • I agree, we are not getting an indectrutible iPhone 5

        This sounds now that the liquid metal back technology will only contribute in making the iPhone 5 more thinner and not imperishable. We already have thinner android phones in market, which are already lighter in weight and slimmer than current iPhones. So, the liquid metal back feature does not tickle much. Though, the nano SIM technology and the rumor of an added nano version too accompanying the sixth generation iPhone, does give a good sensation.

        Source: http://www.theiphonerelease.com/
        iPhone 5
  • There is one VERY good reason for Apple to use Liquidmetal...

    ...MORE sales to the faithful.

    You know all the Apple Lemmings out there will sell their souls to have this shiny new item...even if they just purchased an iPhone in the recent past. Just the way they are.

    Doesn't mean it's any better...just NEWER. And as Apple Lemmings...they MUST have the latest trendy shiny object...or face ridicule from their peers...poor saps.
    It'sNotMe
    • Rubbish

      Apple users in general get 8-10 years from their computers, comapred with 1-2 years for PC users who 'have to' buy a new PC cause Windows has slowed down.
      richardw66
      • Rubbish

        I guess that explains all the 10 year old PCs running Windows XP still in service!
        kenneth.kelley@...
      • Apart from the iMacs or Macbooks that overheat to death or dysfunction,

        or the iMacs whose screens turn to yellow because everything is so jam-packed within that overheating causes the yellowing (I've had cheap $300 monitors go out due to yellowing via temperatures; nobody should be seeing that from a $1000 monitor, $2000 all-in-one desktop, etc...) Or overheating in macbooks (of which a quick web search reveals dozens of articles, especially those talking of too much thermal grease being poorly applied to the CPU, which is not the sign of a 'professional build' for a $1000~$2500 product... that's not as much Apple's fault as it is the second-rate manufacturer they subcontact to, but that's okay since premature failure means more sales from the faithful who still rely on "Apple longevity" despite premature failures... cool...)
        HypnoToad72
      • Show me an Apple user...

        ... using the latest OS on their 8-10 year old computers. PLEASE SHOW ME!
        I can show you my 10 year old desktop PC (AMD Athlon XP-M with 1.5GB RAM) fluently running Windows 7 and Windows 8 CP.
        warboat
      • @HypnoToad72

        [i]"...of which a quick web search reveals dozens of articles..."[/i]

        And your point is? I can do a quick search and find 100s of pieces about the new iPad running extremely hot but we found out that wasn't really the case. I can do a search and find dozens of articles about just about anything you want, doesn't make it a wide spread issue. Every product not matter the make or industry is going to have units with issues but when even a few of an Apple product does people like you have to make it out like they all are failed.
        non-biased
    • The very same can be said of the "True Believers"

      of Microsoft. The very ones that think everything Microsoft does is Great. Window 8 is a prime example of this. It seems that every company has devout followers. To say it's only one company is dishonest at best, and downright deceitful is closer to the truth. For people to shout Office 2007 makes me more productive fro the first time I opened it, is a lie. Office 2007 had a steep learning curve, in fact I stopped taking calls on it whenever possible. Now with this Metro crap, I'm going to tell people, they're on their own again, as I refuse to spend money, just to tell people how to find a control panel, that Microsoft has moved again.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Strange.

        Never had any of my users "...shout Office 2007 makes me more productive fro the first time I opened it,...".

        But HAVE had some of my users get all wet at the mere rumor of a new Apple device in the works.

        Sorry...but not the same level of rabidness with MS users & the Apple crowd. Not even close.
        IT_Fella
      • Excitement?

        @IT_Fella, So, do you think that it is Windows has less to be excited about, or that Apple users are more excitable?
        z2217
      • Office 2007 made me more productive

        I'm not an IT professional - in fact most of my friends would describe me as a cynic.
        I did get more done in the same amount of time on Office 2007, within about a week; not because it had better features but because it stayed out of the way more and let my brain stick to DOING
        HugoM
      • IT_Fella

        I've seen just that sort of stuff posted here. There are those that fee the Ribbon made them instantly more productive, because they're "True Believers". They believe in the Gospel, as spoken by the leaders at Microsoft. Just read any discussion regarding Windows 8, any you'll hear how the Metro UI is worlds better than everything else.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
        • It is crazy what people will tell themselves.

          I like Windows 7. I liked XP. I don't hate Windows, though I did go through a Linux geek Windows sucks phase before I needed to move on with my professional work and use Windows. That was the same mindset I went through when I started using Macs, and finding out my ignorant bashing on Apple was more ignorant than I could have thought. I still think Macs are too expensive, but the power and finesse that comes with them is Amazing. Small example, I can lay Windows (any license I have), alternate OSX systems or Linux side by side as much as my memory and CPU can handle. The old text "Linux Utilities" are outshines by UNIX and Apple's GUIs in many cases, and the finesse of the glass trackpad is amazing. It really is the best of all 3 worlds if you can afford it.
          On the other hand, windows has its strengths for its price point. However, Metro is a huge mistake and only the glossy eyed fanboys try to convince themselves otherwise. I say this because it was a huge failure on Windows 7 phone, and MS has abandoned it's users and partners in the mobile arena on every turn the past 7 years or so, which is why they're where they're at. People hated Metro phones so they are forcing everyone buying a new PC to use it hoping people will get Windows phones by default, rather than improving their product.
          ossoup
      • Flagged?

        So you got flagged for speaking the truth in the first part of your post then your opinion in the second without any slander? It's about as worthless as the post rating feature we now have hear. It's completely obvious what side of the debate has more visitors on any given topic just by what side's post go into the negative for absolutely no reason while the other side goes up.

        I have always found it laughable that all the Apple haters believe that Apple is the only company with fanboys. Each and every company has them and I think your bringing up Windows 8 is a prime example, or WP7. How many times did we that as soon as WP7 hit the market it would take over then every six months it become the next 12-18 months and it will happen. Then there are all the claims that Windows 8 will be the absolute greatest and will blow everything away, that when it hits tablets it will destroy the rest. Feeling this way is fine but it's a fanboy stance period. Every manufacturer has their fanboys and they are not better than the other manufacturer's fanboys or the haters. They are all the same, just a different side of the coin.
        non-biased
    • The Reason

      The Reason there are 10 year old PC's still running Windows XP is because Microsoft has failed to improve upon that operating system with VISTA or Windows 7 and Windows 8 will be the next VISTA. People want Apples next system because it will be an improvement on the past. Microsofts next system gets worse every year. The new MS Office with the ribbons are much harder to use than Office 2003, they are going backwards and just adding eye candy but reducing function and ease of use.
      garysturn
      • The ignorance ...

        @garysturn

        ... of Apple fanboys has no bounds.
        warboat
        • Do you have a technical point?

          I'm not here to bash Windows, as I think all OSs have strengths. I do think Win8 Metro is a huge step backwards to try to force people to use Metro after it failed miserably with Win7 Phone. I do like that Apple retains all the UNIX certification and power of OSX, and just layers UIs that are very functional and graceful with their hardware. I do not like change just for the sake of change, as MS tends to do, even if they are huge steps backwards that make everyone buy more to stay compatible. If there's a change, I want a good reason and a benefit to go with it, other than having to upgrade everyone and everything just to keep up with nothing.
          ossoup
    • Why Apple needs Liquidmetal, Really...

      As you point out so correctly, Apple sells to folks who "MUST have the latest trendy shiny object". And, the problem for Apple is that there just seem to be soooo many of these folks out there.

      Tim Cook, during a recent Apple Keynote described Apple's view of the smartphone market as being essentially the entire mobile handset market - because Apple sees all phones eventually being smartphones. Apple, of course would like to dominate this market as they have the market for say, mp3 music players, or maybe tablets. Btw, the mobile handset market is about 1.5 billion units a year...

      Now, if Apple wants to grab say 2/3 of the mobile handset market (they already have MORE than that share in mp3 players and in tablets), they will need to make a billion iPhone xx's a year. That's a lot of iPhones. To be more precise, if Apple's supply chain manages to get 1,000 8-hour shifts a year (3 shifts a day with time off for maintenance, change-over, training, etc.) that supply chain would need to deliver iPhone xx's at a rate of 35 units per SECOND... Apple currently machines the frame of each and every iPhone 4/4S from a solid piece of stainless steel. So, just how many N.C Machine tools do you suppose they might need to turnout 35 iPhone frames per second? Would Taiwan sink under the weight of these machines?

      Now, if these parts can be made on a fancy Liquidmetal molding machine with, say, a 2-second cycle-time, just 70 such machine would be needed... and there would be no machining 'chips' to truck away. This is why Apple needs to use Liquidmetal, why they have acquired exclusive rights to the technology for consumer electronics, and so on.

      So, as you said, lots of folks out there "MUST have the latest trendy shiny object" from Apple. And that is why Apple needs to use Liquidmetal.
      z2217