Apple was recently granted a US patent covering a method of fusing glass structures together to encapsulate the internal circuitry of an iOS device and that of larger electronics like monitors and televisions. The US Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple US Patent No. 8,773,848 for “Fused glass device housings,” which describes a procedure that allows for the efficient fabrication of seamless all-glass electronic device casings.
As noted by the Cupertino California company, all glass structures can be quite heavy, especially if the material is layered to protect against scratches, drops and other accidental damage. The company proposed a new construction method that ensures durability, a lightweight design and eye-pleasing aesthetics.
Instead of going with the completely glass-on-glass build, Apple suggests joining glass pieces together via a fusing process. According to the patent, the edges of planar and peripheral glass members can be fused together to form a sufficiently thick piece of material that may be machined own to a desired shape.
To help with the casing’s structural integrity, raised glass features can be fused to the planar member at weak points in the build. Examples include the addition of glass structures around holes or openings in the glass member, as well as internal support ribs placed that reduce flexing and breakage. Cutouts in the glass surface can serve as holes for buttons and other physical device controls. In certain embodiments, glass members are fused together to create a five-sided box in which displays, circuitry and other internal components can be inserted, or “slid into place.” This is crucial for larger applications like televisions or monitors that are mounted on stands.
The back side, which is opposite that of the display, can be tinted at a translucent color or made opaque to hide unsightly batteries, chips and flex cables, though Apple leaves an option to keep all sides transparent. Portions of planar glass members may also be “roughened” to help scatter and diffuse light around display edges. Once the internals are inserted, an end cap is placed over the opening to seal off the structure from debris and other contaminants.
Last but not least, the patent goes into detail on polishing and glass strengthening techniques, as well as alternative embodiments that involve extruded hollow glass rods with fused end caps. Additional attention is paid to glass fusing methods that reduce frit to leave seamless joints.
With the latest iOS device designs, it appears that the company is moving further away from the “glass sandwich” aesthetic introduced with the iPhone 4. Combined with rumors of sapphire crystal adoption over Gorilla Glass, the patented glass fusing technology may never make its way to the consumer market. That being said, Apple doesn’t hold patents for sapphire lamination and fusion technology that could potentially work well with today’s granted intellectual property. The seamless fused glass housing patent was first filed for in 2013 and credits Peter Russel-Clarke, Michael K. Pilliod and SVP of Design Jony Ive as its inventors.