Leave it to Computerworld‘s Jonny Evans to tease out some great links to the late-breaking rumors of a “sleek,” unibody iPhone 5 form factor. In his piece today, he leads us to an interesting 2011 blog post from Patently Apple that reveals an Apple patent that, though perhaps mundane on its surface, could be the means to an end for crafting a seamless, unibody iPhone 5.
Evans’ piece points out the recent iPhone 5 unibody rumors attributed to analyst Brian White’s trip to Asia need to be tempered: “Open to question is whether a Unibody design will be compatible with the need to ensure good telephone and data reception.” In a roundabout way, however, Apple’s 2011 patent for a new antenna window — as well as how it would be bonded to the chassis of the iPhone — offers both a potentially sound antenna window design while also giving Cupertino designers the opportunity to bond components to the iPhone 5′s chassis that are nearly seamless.
From Patently Apple:
“The new composite would accommodate a new antenna window for Apple’s iPhone and iPad formed of RF transparent materials. As shown in our cover graphic, the new antenna window could take up as much as half the backside of an iPhone. The proposed antenna window would have a seamless backside line that would almost be invisible. The new antenna window design obviously departs from the iPhone 4′s stainless steel antenna band which has been so controversial.”
The keywords here are “seamless,” “invisible,” and an antenna window that “departs from the iPhone 4.” These three themes in the Apple patent above take on the form factor and antenna designs of the iPhone, and would provide a solution for crafting this so-called unibody iPhone 5 without compromising reception.
The means to this end is a composite and manufacturing process — not completely dissimilar from the rumors of a new bonding process that could strengthen iPhone 5 construction — that would practically merge to adjoining components: ”in order to assure both the integrity of the housing as well as the aesthetic look and feel of the housing, the reveal formed at the junctions of the antenna window with the bottom surface and exposed surfaces . . . of the housing must be structurally strong and resilient but also present a sense of both visual and tangible continuity between the housing and antenna window.”
The patent goes on to note that junctions between components “could be shaped to essentially mirror the contours of exposed surface 208 onto which it will be placed in direct contact.”
This isn’t the first time that seamless, bezel-less iPhone rumors have surfaced. In a piece last year on our iPhone 6 News Blog that highlighted rumors of the next iPhone being cut from a single piece of metal, we linked to what had been rumored to be an Apple patent (link goes to the patent’s .pdf) filed in Australia on June 28th, 2011 that describes a “handheld electronic device includes at least a single housing having a front opening and cover disposed within the front opening and housing without a bezel.” However, I was never able to confirm the claims that this was a indeed an authentic Apple patent, and the document itself does not reference Apple.
What it does reveal is that the concept of seamless joints that could join components together in a unibody-like manner is out there, and Apple appears to have at least one patent that could facilitate production of the unibody concept for the iPhone 5.
Should Apple decide to pursue the unibody concept, the iPhone 5′s form factor could turn out to be something that once again completely differentiates it from its competitors’ form factors in the marketplace. My feeling, however, is that if Apple is pouring resources into a wildly different form factor for the iPhone 5, it’ll turn out to be the most heavily guarded detail of the new iPhone, and most likely will not show up in leaked photos anytime soon.
By Michael Nace