Although Apple has come up with some creative finishes over the years for its Apple Watch lineup, most of the company’s other products have stuck almost exclusively with aluminum, but it looks like Apple is looking into using much more premium materials going forward that could potentially usher in a whole new era of product design.
Apple has been working on deep and dark blacks as of late, and we’ve seen the company’s love for the darker colours in products ranging from the original black plastic MacBooks of a decade ago to the black iPhone 5 and the gorgeous Jet Black iPhone 7.
However, as impressive as those products were, they also proved how difficult it’s been for Apple to work with metal allows that produce these deep and dark finishes.
However, a new patent uncovered by Patently Apple reveals how Apple is looking at ways to come up with an entirely new product finish that may solve some of these problems, and it’s borrowing an idea that it first introduced to the Apple Watch: Titanium.
The patent filing, which is titled “Titanium parts having a blasted surface texture,” explains the various ways that Apple could move to titanium casings while still using distinctive textured finishes that would solve some of the problems traditionally associated with the harder material.
For instance, the anodized aluminum materials that have been used on MacBooks for years is easier to etch and therefore allows for a more textured finish, while still being both durable enough and light enough to produce a good balance of weight and durability. While Titanium is even more durable and shares some of the lightweight properties of aluminum, it’s more difficult to use it to create a glossier surface.
In other words, in its natural form, using titanium would produce boring, industrial-looking MacBooks that wouldn’t be nearly as attractive as the semi-gloss aluminum models that we’ve all become accustomed to.
However, Apple’s patent describes a couple of possible new techniques for processing titanium that would allow for a more attractive surface finish, making it much more practical for use in not only MacBooks but also iPads and iPhones.
Blasting and Etching
Specifically, Apple suggests a combination of blasting and etching with a chemical anodization process that would allow the metal to retain a “distinctive surface finish that both diffusely and specularly reflects visible light.”
While the details of the processes outlined in the patent application are highly technical and likely of interest only to metallurgists, the result of what Apple is trying to accomplish here is interesting, since the use of titanium would allow Apple to produce MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads that are even lighter and thinner.
Since titanium is considerably stronger than aluminum, Apple would be able to use less material in the casings of its devices while still offering the same durability and protection.
While titanium is obviously key to Apple’s high-end Apple Watch models, replacing the previous Ceramic and Gold editions, this actually wouldn’t be Apple’s first foray into using the material for its laptops; some Apple enthusiasts may still remember the short-lived PowerBook G4 from about 20 years ago which broke new ground by using a titanium casing back in the days when most laptops were still made from considerably cheaper plastic.
However, that early attempt also demonstrated the downside to using the material for something as large as a laptop. Apple had to paint the casing to make it look appealing, which ended up having the opposite effect as the finish easily flaked off over time. The brittleness of the titanium materials also resulted in cracking and breaking.
That said, the Apple Watch Series 5 seems to have solved many of these problems, and in fact there are indications that the techniques described in Apple’s recent patent have already been at least partially employed in the titanium finish of those particular Apple Watch models, not to mention the Titanium Apple Card, so it’s likely that this may simply be an indication of things to come as Apple continues to refine its material design and engineering processes.