Now that we know all about the latest generation of iPhone(s), it's (sadly) time to start guessing what Apple's going to do next. This is a time when true fanboys dive into Apple's growing library of patents for clues. And while we can't expect all these patents to make it to market, it's fun to wonder.
According to a patent published a couple days after Tuesday's iPhone event, Apple might be thinking about how to make an indestructible iPhone, a plan that involves wrapping the device with sapphire, a stone second only to diamonds in hardness. The process detailed in the patent filing describes a process that would sandwich a piece of glass between two layers of sapphire to make a laminate. Applied to an iPhone or iPad, this laminate would be practically unbreakable. If you drop your phone, it's no problem—it's invincible.
But is it practical? Well… it's complicated. Being the second hardest stone and everything, sapphire is an expensive material to begin with and even more expensive once you factor in the costs of processing it. Apple brings this up in the patent filing, noting how difficult cutting and polishing the material would be. It's so hard that it would wear out the machines that process the sapphire.
Preparing the sapphire would be difficult but not impossible. As Apple made very clear at this week's iPhone event, the new Touch ID fingerprint-scanning home button on the iPhone 5S is actually sapphire crystal. The same material is also used to cover the camera lens on other iPhones, and quite a few other smartphones for that matter.
Apple has also dealt with expensive manufacturing materials before. So if it can figure out a way to stuff the device with rare Earth metals inside the phone and keep the cost of components under £150 or so, it should be able to figure out how to bring down the cost of sapphire. Plus, each piece of sapphire laminate would be less than a millimetre thick.
To be perfectly honest, "practical" is a pretty flexible word these days. The fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S isn't necessarily a practical upgrade from the boring old iPhone 5, but it is an upgrade. Any eye-brow raising innovation is worthwhile in the smartphone business, where innovation has slowed to a crawl. Having a screen that basically doesn't break is something that users would get excited about, perhaps excited enough to buy a new phone. Furthermore, nothing spells luxury like a sapphire and gold iPhone. [Patently Apple]