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Apple Granted Patent for Liquidmetal Home Button on iOS Devices

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted Apple a series of 40 new patents, including one that describes various implementations and benefits of a Liquidmetal home button on iPhones and iPads.

Liquidmetal alloys, otherwise known as "bulk solidifying amorphous alloys" in the patent filing (via Patently Apple), have a number of unique properties, including high strength, corrosion resistance, light weight, and malleability.

Apple has annually renewed its exclusive rights to use Liquidmetal since 2010, but how it plans to use the alloys remains unclear. Early speculation centered around Apple using Liquidmetal for the iPhone SIM Tool, while other Liquidmetal home button patents have surfaced as early as 2014. Meanwhile, Steve Zadesky, named on this and other Liquidmetal patents, recently announced he was leaving Apple.

Today's patent explains how Liquidmetal's high elasticity makes it an ideal material for a pressure-sensitive home button that would deform slightly when pressed, but return to its normal shape when you remove your finger or thumb. Liquidmetal would always retain this elasticity, while other materials like titanium or stainless steel could become irreversibly deformed and adversely affect the home button.


A second embodiment of the patent details a home button with a switch comprising a small actuator positioned adjacent to Liquidmetal material, whereby pressing the actuator deforms the bulk solidifying amorphous alloy. The efficient design could be easier for Apple to manufacture compared to conventional pressure-sensitive home buttons that use dome switches placed on a substrate with or without an actuation nub.

It does not appear that Apple's upcoming products, including the rumored iPhone SE, iPhone 7, and new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, will adopt Liquidmetal, given the absence of any recent rumors surrounding the alloys, but Apple's continuous renewal of the material implies it remains interested. It is common for Apple to patent inventions that are not publicly released until years later, if ever.

United States Patent No. 9,279,733 describes Apple's invention in more detail.

Article Link: Apple Granted Patent for Liquidmetal Home Button on iOS Devices
 

scott911

macrumors 6502a
Aug 24, 2009
722
439
Can someone explain the "exclusive use" part of this?

Does this effectively mean that apple is holding this product back until there's a real use or marketing angle for apple alone?

I'd hate to think that just because Apple had the cash to buy up the whole company that it means the metal is being held back for use in artificial hearts, scuba regulators, aircraft parts.

I remember thinking way back how neat this material was before being sold to Apple, and had hoped it would have already trickled into the world in some interesting ways...
 
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Serban

Suspended
Jan 8, 2013
5,159
926
this cannot be better than stainless still ring with sapphire, right ??
 
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Mac 128

macrumors 603
Apr 16, 2015
5,360
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I was hoping they would kill of the homebutton all together. And put the fingerprint sensor beneath the screen.

It's interesting this patent was filed in 2012 when the iPhone 5 was released, as Apple surely knew that Touch ID would be replacing the home button at that time. However, the Home button illustarates the properties they are patenting, without necessarily giving away their plans. Obviously now there's no way the home button would be made out of liquidmetal which would obscure the fingerprint scanner. So this patent applies to tech as it likely stood 4 years ago, and not to anything Apple is likely to do in the future.
 
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cmichaelb

macrumors 68020
Aug 6, 2008
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Can someone explain the "exclusive use" part of this?

Does this effectively mean that apple is holding this product back until there's a real use or marketing angle for apple alone?

I'd hate to think that just because Apple had the cash to buy up the whole company that it means the metal is being held back for use in artificial hearts, scuba regulators, aircraft parts.

I remember thinking way back how neat this material was before being sold to Apple, and had hoped it would have already trickled into the world in some interesting ways...

No, I think what is going on is liquid metal shows tons of promise - including not interfering with radio signals yet having high strength - but is still being developed. It's not ready for prime time in a mass market consumer product.

The exclusivity probably only applies to consumer electronics and not health devices, etc.

Apple has never bought the company as far as anyone knows. I believe they are still independent.
 
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kdarling

macrumors P6
Can someone explain the "exclusive use" part of this?

Apple has paid Liquid Metal (tm) Technologies for the exclusive perpetual right to use their inventions... ones created between certain dates... in consumer electronics devices only.

While the license is perpetual, the invention coverage dates run out every few years, and Apple renews so they can get the perpetual rights to later innovations.

In other words, if they stopped renewing the license, Apple would still have perpetual rights to all inventions up to now, but not for any LM developments that came later on.

Does this effectively mean that apple is holding this product back until there's a real use or marketing angle for apple alone?

I sometimes halfway think they bought up the rights simply as part of Jobs' "thermonuclear war" against Android and Samsung, since Samsung had been using Liquid Metal in their phones for ding/corrosion resistant hinges and bezels since around 2002.

Samsung had even made a luxury phone with a Liquid Metal chassis in 2008, a couple of years before Apple grabbed their exclusive and blocked Samsung from using that particular brand of amorphous alloy any more.

To be fair, if a way could be found to make large quantities of LM blanks cheaply so they could be used in say, iPhones, it would be a dream material for Ive because of its plastic-like molding characteristic and corrosion resistance.

I'd hate to think that just because Apple had the cash to buy up the whole company that it means the metal is being held back for use in artificial hearts, scuba regulators, aircraft parts.

It's just an exclusive for use in consumer electronics, and we don't even know how broad that category goes.

For example, The Swatch Group owns similar exclusive rights to using Liquid Metal in watches. So if Apple wanted to use it in their own consumer smartwatch, analysts believe Apple would probably have to sublicense from Swatch.
 
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Oblivious.Robot

macrumors 6502a
Sep 15, 2014
737
1,950
If only the home button is integrated on to the screen itself, the size of the devices would shrink, and I for one would be definitely getting the Plus/Pro devices then!

Oh the future looks promising, unless it's going to kill me by sending a terminator. :D

image.jpeg
 
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ReneR

macrumors 6502
Jun 18, 2008
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Actually, this patent is for a bending strip of metal that goes under the button. One that doesn't wear out, so the home button never loses its 'clickiness'.

if you bend regular old fashioned metal in the elastic zone of the material also does not wear out, though, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress–strain_curve
 
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Tummy

macrumors regular
Feb 1, 2008
156
85
Can someone explain the "exclusive use" part of this?

Does this effectively mean that apple is holding this product back until there's a real use or marketing angle for apple alone?

I'd hate to think that just because Apple had the cash to buy up the whole company that it means the metal is being held back for use in artificial hearts, scuba regulators, aircraft parts.

I remember thinking way back how neat this material was before being sold to Apple, and had hoped it would have already trickled into the world in some interesting ways...

In 2010 Apple acquired an exclusive license to use its technology in consumer electronics and has been extending that agreement every February for a year at a time. Liquid Metal has gone on to be used in things light Omega watches and golf clubs, but Apple has not brought anything to market using the material in the consumer electronics space yet.
 
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