Korea ET News, citing unnamed industry sources, claims that Apple intends to adopt a revolutionary set of metal alloys called Liquidmetal to mold a liquid smooth casing for its next-generation iPhone 5 smartphone.
In exchange for a license fee estimated to fall within the $11 million to $20 million range, in August 2010 Apple acquired "a perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid, exclusive license to commercialize Liquidmetal's intellectual property in the field of consumer electronic products," according to a filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology discovered how to make liquid-metal alloys in the mid-1990s. And since 2003, patent holder Liquidmetal Technologies has been finding new ways to market these alloys to military and industrial manufacturers.
"Conventional metals crystallize when they solidify [while] Liquidmetal is basically a frozen metal and we call that a glass," said CIT Professor of Material Science William Johnson in an online video presentation. "In that respect it is like a window pane or like many plastics."
Anticipating an October Launch
The "amorphous" atomic structure of Liquidmetal enables manufacturers to create complex, sophisticated surfaces with precise dimensions for product designs that require the elasticity of plastics as well as the strength and hardness of metal. Unlike thermal plastics, these revolutionary alloys exhibit a strength that is two to three times that of titanium and stainless steel.
If Apple elects to use the technology to mold the case for its coming iPhone 5, the smartphone would no longer be subject to high levels of wear and tear -- or damage from exposure to high temperatures and corrosion -- that products made from conventional metals or thermal plastics typically experience over time. The casing could be significantly thinner than what can be achieved using conventional thermal plastic designs.
Though the prospect of a Liquidmetal iPhone 5 is no more than a rumor at this point, Piper Jaffray's analysts do believe that Apple's next-generation smartphone will feature "a revolutionary newly designed body." Moreover, the investment firm has pushed back its anticipated launch date for the iPhone 5 from August to October -- based in major part on supply chain issues pertaining to the likely availability of Qualcomm's coming low-power 4G LTE modem.
"Based on our checks, we believe the design win momentum of Qualcomm's 28-nanometer products has been exceptionally strong and a 28nm LTE baseband is likely designed into the next iPhone," Gene Munster and three other Piper Jaffray analysts wrote in an investor note released Thursday. (continued...)