Where Does LiquidMetal & Gorilla Glass Fit Into the 2012 iPhone 5?

An aluminum back and unibody construction are dominating the iPhone 5 rumor mill this week. Where will Apple’s acquisition of alloy pioneer LiquidMetal, Gorilla glass, and those glass cutting machine rumors from last year fit into the 2012 iPhone 5 form factor?

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been highlighting how all of the old iPhone 5 rumors from last year seem to be coming around again in an almost systematic fashion. The recycling of feature rumors for the iPhone 5 can only mean one of two things: that Apple has planned these rumored features for the iPhone 5 for almost two years now, or that the rumors are little more than sensationalized fodder to get people reading tech blogs in a second-generation frenzy over the iPhone 5.

This week, the lead story is, once again, a report that the iPhone’s Gorilla glass backing will be replaced by an aluminum back. There are various stories about this rumor, so let’s pick this one, from Cult Of Mac, says it as good as anyone else: “The Gorilla glass that currently houses the fourth- and fifth-generation iPhones — which is notoriously susceptible to cracks and smashes — will be replaced by aluminum for the sixth-generation device, according to the source.”

Just like the built-in bumper rumor and the slide-out keyboard rumor, the aluminum backed iPhone 5 is a very old rumor. Charles Moore reported on it way back on March 9, 2011. But just because the aluminum backed iPhone 5 rumor is getting its second treatment in the media doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bupkis. And I would argue that there is an equal chance that Apple could wield a metal alloy different from aluminum for the iPhone 5′s back, such as the unique, moldable metal alloy from acquired LiquidMetal technologies.

There is a basis for this speculation: Apple acquired LiquidMetal back in August of 2010, and they must have done so for a reason: sure, Cupertino might have bought them out to keep their technology out of the hands of competitors, but Apple has a more reliable track record of acquiring technologies that they want to subsume into their design efforts.

Charlie White at Mashable had this to say about the prospect of aluminum on the iPhone 5 last year: “It could be aluminum, but there’s also talk of LiquidMetal, that futuristic substance that’s as easy to work with (and as lightweight) as plastic, but strong as aluminum . . . we’re still thinking it’s a little soon for it to appear on the iPhone. We’re betting on aluminum for the iPhone 5, with Liquidmetal making its appearance in a later version.”

But that was last year, before anyone had anticipated the iPhone 4S being released in 2011. Now that we’re into 2012, the prospect of LiquidMetal playing a role in the iPhone 5′s form factor is more likely.

While we are on the subject of form factors, it is also worth noting that, along with the aluminum backed iPhone 5 rumors of last year, we also had the story of Apple investing in glass cutting machines, ostensibly to cut curved glass screens for the iPhone 5. Charles was on that story in 2011 as well, and had this to say back on May 24th, 2011: “Apple itself has reportedly purchased 200-300 glass cutting machines to be used by glass makers, or so the sources affirm, currently storing them at associated assembly plants to be brought into production service once yield rates for curved glass reaches a satisfactory level.”

So, are we due to hear about rumors of the curved glass display for the iPhone 5 again? Based on the recent trajectory of iPhone rumors, I’d say so. The original report about the glass cutting machines came from DigiTimes, so it will be interesting to see if they pick up that story again in 2012.

One thing is for sure: if Apple is going to craft a new form factor for the iPhone 5 and have it look distinct from Android phones, there are indeed going to have to go to extraordinary lengths to design and craft it. Whether or not you like the form factor of the iPhone 4 and 4S, no one can deny that it is a unique form factor, marrying glass, plastic, and metal in a way not usually seen on other devices. Glass cutting and LiquidMetal could be just the ticket.
By Michael Nace



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