Could Apple finally make full use of Liquidmetal in the construction of its next iPhone?

iphone-5-concept-teardropIf a report from Korean source ETNews is to be believed, the next-generation Apple iPhone will use Liquidmetal in its construction, a material for which the company acquired a worldwide usage license back in 2010, but until now hasn’t fully exploited.

Before the launch of the iPhone 4S, rumors were flying that the fifth-generation iPhone would have a curvy chassis made from metal, but although Liquidmetal was mentioned, aluminum was considered more likely at the time.

Going back even further we find talk of Apple using Liquidmetal to build tiny fuel cells to power future devices, after a patent appeared linking the two together.

Despite all these rumors, Apple has so far only used Liquidmetal for its SIM removal tool found inside iPhone and some iPad packages. Could this finally be changing with the introduction of an all-new iPhone?

Why Liquidmetal?

For a start, Liquidmetal is a very marketable name, evoking thoughts of everything from Omega’s gorgeous Seamaster Planet Ocean watch to the Terminator T-1000; and cool names help sell gadgets.

Without going into the alloy’s complex structure, here’s why Apple — and Omega for the matter — want to use Liquidmetal to make its products. Like plastic but unlike some other metals, it’s easy to work with and can be molded into precise shapes, plus it’s lightweight, very strong and highly resistant to scratches, corrosion and long-term wear.

Liquidmetal strength chartIn fact, according to a handy Liquidmetal Technologies chart, it’s almost twice as hard and strong as steel, and has three-times the strength-to-weight ratio too.

What would it look like?

The leak calls it a “surface smooth like liquid,” making it sound glossy rather than matte, and certainly if you look at an iPhone’s SIM removal tool, it has a beautiful chrome-like finish.

So perhaps an iPhone using a Liquidmetal chassis will have an iPod Touch-style rear panel, or be somewhere in-between that and the original iPhone.

Another attractive property of Liquidmetal is it’s ability to be heat-formed into different shapes, so instead of the flat surfaces found on the iPhone 4 and 4S, a curved or tapered rear panel could really be introduced this time.

Drawbacks?

Liquidmetal is still something of an unknown quantity when it comes to mainstream consumer electronics, especially when used in such a prominent way as is being suggested here.

Luxury phone manufacturer Vertu was the first to use Liquidmetal on a phone, when it introduced its Ascent series handset way back in 2004, but it was only a small part of the $4500 device.

Around the same time, SanDisk used it to improve its Cruzer Titanium flash drive’s chances of survival in the event it was run over or otherwise crushed, as the Liquidmetal casing was said to be able to resist 2000 pounds of weight before giving in. But it was only 2-inches long.

That said, pushing the envelope when it comes to design and using new materials has never bothered Apple, and neither has the high price of doing so.

Will they, won’t they?

As we’ve already mentioned, rumors of Apple using Liquidmetal to make an iPhone chassis have been around for some time, making this just another entry on an ever-growing list.

Therefore it should be treated as just another possibility, and nothing more at this stage.

Using a high-tech material to further separate its new model from the competition sounds possible though, and it’s something Samsung could also try with its Galaxy S III phone.

The ETNews source states Apple is expected to launch the next iPhone during WWDC in June, while others consider a September/October date to be more likely.

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