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Apple already experimenting with Liquidmetal alloys

updated 09:40 am EDT, Tue August 17, 2010

Tech used in SIM ejector pins

Apple has actually been using Liquidmetal's alloys for a couple of years, albeit in a limited capacity, says one of the technology's co-inventors, Atakan Peker. The early example is said to be an ejector pin for the iPhone 3G, used to remove the SIM card. One version of the accessory is noted to be unusually hard, with a unique color and feel. "That's my metal," says Peker. "I recognized it immediately. Take it from an expert, that's Liquidmetal.

"It is practically unbendable by hand unless you want to hurt or cut your fingers," he adds. Not all iPhone 3Gs came with a Liquidmetal-based pin; European phones, for example, came with regular steel pins, which can allegedly "bend like paperclips." Apple ultimately abandoned ejector pins when it launched the iPhone 4.

The choice of Liquidmetal for the iPhone 3G was reportedly a test of the company's manufacturing capabilities. Apple typically requires two sources for any part, in case supply problems force one out of commission. Liquidmetal was the only source for the alloys Apple was interested in, and so the former was asked to work on a non-essential part.

Apple recently acquired exclusive rights to use Liquidmetal's patents in consumer electronics. What expanded purpose Apple might have for the alloys is unannounced, but speculation has held that they could be applied to shells in updated mobile devices. The materials can be expensive however, as they contain a large amount of platinum.






by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. Hillbilly Geek

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -3

    It starts with the ejector pin...

    Next thing you know, T-1000! Sorry, just had to say it. But the platinum does explain the higher cost of apple products.

  1. freddymac

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +3

    When you want the best,

    It will cost you more.

    I'm sure Dell uses Liquidmetal in all there computers to get their quality products on the market!! :-)

  1. byRyan

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +2

    next...

    first we had the titanium powerbook, then the Aluminum powerbook... all I got to say is bring on the platinum powerbook!

  1. wrenchy

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    And how much does


    Apple charge for this little accessory? Geez, I use a thin paperclip to eject my SIM card. Works perfectly and is generally free and commonly available. How many times would a user have to eject their SIM card? And with the new micro-SIM, what other phone would you put it in?? WOT / WOM.

    The liquidmetal technology is slick. I have seen the Omega Seamaster in Liquidmetal. Very nice indeed.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -2

    No!

    Apple has actually been using Liquidmetal's alloys for a couple of years,

    I can't believe that! I mean, I just thought Apple made this huge licensing deal without ever even trying the product!

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -5

    Re: When you want the best,

    It will cost you more.

    But is it actually offering any benefit except to say "oh, look at us, it's liquid metal!" just so they can keep charging higher prices.

  1. Barbarossa

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +5

    Advantages of LiquidMetal

    Apple now takes a huge block of aluminum and machines away 90% of it to make a body for the MacBook Pro or the Mac Mini. Of course, the waste metal is recycled but the machining takes time and energy. Using the LiquidMetal alloys allows the same parts to be cast in bulk like so many plastic spoons. However, Apple probably won't do this for larger components due to the added weight of the alloy. Other than Zirconium, it can contain Titanium, Copper, Nickel and sometimes Aluminum or Niobium.

    Aluminum dents easily. The LiquidMetal alloys are very springy, not only harder to deform but less likely to leave a permanent dent, so although it would make great case, people would object to the excess weight unless the case could be made even thinner. That is a possibility.

    The alloys themselves are not that expensive, just the licensing, and Apple has already paid for that. The metal is easy to cast at a relatively low temperature and unlike other cast metals (Aluminum, Magnesium, Zinc, & other whitemetal alloys) the finished casting is very strong and very hard. Because the alloy is made of atoms of widely dissimilar sizes, a crystal structure cannot form as the metal cools. It ends up as an amorphous soild like glass. Without a crystal lattice there are no weak points to easily fail or to propagate cracks.

    Apple also has a patent for parts (casings, mostly) made of ceramics which are not only very hard and durable but totally transparent to radio frequency waves (RF) allowing signals to go through the case.

    The best of both worlds is to have a part made of a lightweight porous closed-cell ceramic and then to fill the spaces with a LiquidMetal alloy (think of a brick soaking up molten aluminum and then cooling.) This metal-reinforced ceramic would be literally bulletproof. Tiny parts could be press-formed from a ceramic paste, fired, and then filled with the alloy giving lightweight but immensely strong parts that were also corrosion resistant. Think hinges, handles, buttons, antennas, cases, &c.

  1. MindBlade

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +1

    I have one..and they aren't kidding

    Just checked my old iPhone 3g box...and lo and behold...I have one. It may look like a paperclip, but you can't bend it for anything.

    If Apple's building future portable devices out of this stuff....then the future looks bright indeed!

    -Matt

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