Try as we might to stop it, dropping our smartphones is an inevitability. In spite of manufacturers’ greatest efforts to design more durable devices with materials like Gorilla Glass and aluminum, there is always the potential for a shattered screen — which is precisely why Apple filed a patent to make diagnosing and repairing a busted phone easier.
Patently Apple caught wind of a proposal from mid-2015 that uses sensors to characterize a crack and identify its location on a phone’s cover glass. As always, patents do not guarantee features, but they do serve as clues to what is being considered for future products.
There are multiple potential benefits to this idea. First, it would help Apple gain insight as to the circumstances in which its devices break. But, more valuable to the customer, the technology could relay information to the user about how the damage has specifically impacted their phone’s systems.
According to the filing, there are several ways Apple might achieve this. The first involves a sensor grid packed tightly against the cover glass. Once the phone is dropped, data from the accelerometer will detect the shock, triggering analysis of the grid. If a gap is detected, the phone could ask the user to draw a circle around the damage to aid in location. Ideally, however, the system would also be sensitive enough to detect hairline cracks the user couldn’t see.
The second approach involves the distribution of “contact points” across the front of the device, both covering the touchscreen and the non-interactive surface area around it. A change in electrical resistance between those connected points would be characterized as a crack. The system could then refine the location by triangulation. The more contact points, the greater the accuracy.
Many companies, like Motorola and Samsung, responded to the fragility of smartphones by making them stronger through research and development. While continued innovation in building more rugged devices is happening all the time, it may also be helpful, as Apple has suggested, to gather insight regarding the nature of these incidents and when and where they happen. Technology like this could give the user some peace of mind after destroying an expensive smartphone, give technicians critical information that could aid in repair, and ultimately help Apple design more durable products.