Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one of Apple’s latest patent applications suggest that the company is currently working to develop a form of portable device “weatherproofing,” which would take the form of an outer layer of self-healing elastomer to protect sensitive connections from becoming damaged by the forces of nature.
The patent, indicated to be for a quote unquote, “Electronic device with hidden connector,” apparently details a rather elaborate method of protecting an electrical device’s open connection ports with a specialized self-healing material. In practice, plugs that are attached to the power, data, or audio feeds are able to penetrate the elastomeric material, which then re-seals itself when these cables are removed.
Apple has indicated that such material has the unique ability to “heal” itself after being penetrated or after other forms of structural damage have occurred, via the reformation of chemical bonds and mechanical properties.
Elastomeric material would be combined with additional materials to create a color matching to the device that it will be applied to — for example, a black or white iPhone. Several manufacturing techniques, however, stipulate that the material need be applied over sensitive contacts in liquid form, whereas others allow for pre-formulated attachments.
Certain regions of the material that come in contact with elements — such as water — are pre-treated with the elastomer particles into which the connector is inserted. This particular method not only guarantees enhanced reliability, but also improves electrical contact between the connector and its respective port.
Alternatively, connector probes — such as for audio and Lightning — might be integrated into either a connector body or plug.
How would this benefit me in day-to-day use?
According to Apple’s document, self-healing elastomers can be applied to the opening of a 3.5mm headphone jack, for example, in addition to being placed inside the actual housing, thus protecting the exposed ports from liquid, dust and other forms of contamination. In other words, the layers of elastomer material can be permeated by a headphone plug, and then reseal themselves when the connector is removed.
In a similar example, the audio jack is completely filled with elastomer, which can then “bend” to audio jack conductors on a 3.5mm audio plug. Certain ports exist within the audio jack housing that accept elastomer that is displaced when the plug is inserted; once the plug is removed, however, the material regains its initial properties, and thus, its ability to protect the ports from contaminants.
It’s unclear at his point whether or not Apple intends to incorporate this self-healing material into its product lineup, but the company has been rumored to be working on a weatherproof iPhone for some time now.
Other smartphone manufacturers — such as Motorola, LG, and Sony — have been experimenting with similar materials as of lately, however the specific characteristics as described by Apple are far more complex than any existing application.
Apple’s self-healing elastomer patent application — initially filed in June, 2014 — credits David I. Nazzaro, Tyler S. Bushnell, and Ibuki Kamei as its inventors.