Tag - Liquidmetal
Among many new patents granted to Apple by the US Patent and Trademark Office, one has attracted interest because of its involvement of Liquidmetal, an amorphous alloy Apple has invested in an exclusive license for that offers unique properties, but has never been much exploited by the company. The new patent images the substance as part of a future iOS device home button. In the patent, Apple describes the alloy as being used in a switch, where pressure from a finger would temporarily deform the actuator, but using Liquidmetal would mean that the button would always return to its normal shape, avoiding eventual permanent deformity.
This edition of Rumor Roundup will begin with what we understand is a fact: Apple VP of Product Design Steve Zadesky is leaving Apple. The Wall Street Journal reports that he has informed colleagues of his departure for personal reasons. The loss will be a blow to the company: Zadesky worked on the iPhone and iPad, and has been working extensively with Liquidmetal -- the special alloy Apple owns the rights to under license. However, it is his rumored role as the head of the Apple car-technology project, which allegedly stems from is former role as a Ford engineer, that feeds the rumor mill.
Two patents recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) suggest Apple is still working on developing production processes for Liquidmetal. The two patents describe methods for casting bulk metallic glass (BMG) in different ways, including allowing multiple BMGs to surround other alloys, as well as techniques to melt BMG feedstock using horizontal cold crucible induction melting (CCIM) systems.
Apple has again renewed its exclusive license -- for the third time in as many years -- for rights to use Liquidmetal Technologies' patented and unique metal alloys, despite the fact that the company has appeared to do little with the technology. The metal alloy, known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance and ability to be molded into complex or other shapes difficult to achieve with other metals, has been the object of speculation for years.
Apple has again extended its contract with Liquidmetal Technologies, giving the Cupertino manufacturer exclusive rights to its alloys through February of 2015. All intellectual property acquired or developed by the Liquidmetal Technologies, and all intellectual property held by Crucible Intellectual Property, is now under the control of Apple for use only in its own devices.
Apple's exclusive licensing agreement of the Liquidmetal fabrication process and engineering staff in 2010 briefly sent ripples through the tech industry, until a lead executive revealed that it would take years and hundreds of millions of dollars before the material was ready for large-scale production. A patent awarded to Crucible Intellectual Property -- seemingly a joint venture between the two companies -- appears to be at least a portion of the method to generate large quantities of Liquidmetal, expected to be used in future iOS and other devices. Apple holds the exclusive license for the development and sale of the material in the consumer market.
A job listing from Apple describing the need for a mechanical engineer with a wide knowledge of materials and manufacturing processes -- and some specific experience in skills required for dealing with the bulk-metallic glass alloy known as Liquidmetal -- has fuelled speculation that Apple's investment in the technology may be finally bearing more fruit. The technology is already used for specialized parts such as the SIM card ejector pin in older iPhone models, but very little has been seen of it thus far.
An SEC filing by Liquidmetal Technologies on Friday revealed that the company has extended its licensing of the technology to Apple for exploitation in consumer electronics for another two years beyond the original agreement, now in effect until 2014. Apple has made light use of the technology since 2010 on small parts such as the SIM card ejector pin in the iPhone 3GS, but continues to develop the innovation for commercial use.
Dr. Ataka Peker, one of the inventors of the new class of metallic alloys known commercially as Liquidmetal and the founder of the company, says he believes Apple would have to spend "three to five years", and "$300 million to $500 million" to develop the alloys to the point where it could be used on a large scale, such as for an entire computing casing. He believes the company will continue to use Liquidmetal on a smaller scale until a "breakthrough product" comes along.
A rumor surfacing Wednesday has both Apple and Samsung turning towards exotic materials for their next-generation smartphones. Apple would purportedly take advantage of its Liquidmetal patent deal, ETNews said, to get a shell that was both thin and light but resistant to external damage. The design was "expected" to show at the World Wide Developers Conference in June, though without an official WWDC date, this part would be more speculation than a claim of fact.