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Could the next iPhone be like the T-1000 Terminator?

April 19, 2012|By Michelle Maltais
  • In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," the T-1000 was made of a liquid metal.
In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," the T-1000 was made of a liquid… (Artisan Home Entertainment )

How cool would it be if the next iPhone had something in common with a futuristic sci-fi character from the '90s? If you recall, the T-1000 in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was made of a liquid metal. Word on the sixth-generation phone is that it could be made of "Liquidmetal."

Korea IT News published a story Wednesday that Samsung and Apple are "shifting the focus of their competition to new materials." The story says that while Samsung is working with ceramic for its new Galaxy S3, "iPhone5 is likely to take liquid metal, an alloy of zirconium, titanium, nickel, copper and so forth having an outer surface smooth like liquid."

The idea isn't so far-fetched, some say.

"It's highly likely," said IHS senior analyst Kevin Keller. "Historically, Apple has always pioneered new technologies," such as using aluminum for the MacBook. 

Furthering this possibility is that Liquidmetal Technologies Inc., a Caltech spinoff in Rancho Santa Margarita, granted Apple a perpetual license in 2010 to use its technology in consumer electronics.

Now before you go dreaming of all the sweet things your new super-smart smartphone might be able to morph into, it's not exactly the same. (Sorry, your iPhone probably won't become a nanomorphic assassin.) Although the science-fiction and science-fact materials share the same name, they don't quite have the same properties.

In reality, Liquidmetal isn't a "mimetic poly-alloy" as in "T2." It's an amorphous metal alloy that, despite its name, isn't really liquid.

In terms of manufacturing, the material actually fits somewhere in between having the strength of sheet-metal construction and the flexibility of injected molded plastic. "Liquidmetal has 2-3 times the strength of titanium and stainless steel," according to the Liquidmetal website. When the material cools, it forms something akin to glass.

You can find it in some golf clubs, tennis rackets and watches. Liquidmetal also has been used on some small parts of the iPhone -- such as the SIM card ejector. So far, it's been used in more than 10 million mobile phone hinges, more than 2 million antennas and more than 2 million cases already.

Not bad for a still-emergent technology.

Of course, cool new materials usually don't come cheap. "The technology is still at the high end of the cycle," IHS's Keller said. "As technology evolves the costs will come down."

Apple hasn't shied away from pioneering new technologies due to cost, Keller points out. An iPad with Liquidmetal parts is probably a couple of years away, he said: Apple will need to work through some of the material's limitations, such as cooling time, that limit the size of components that can be constructed with it.

If Apple does start a trend, it could create some challenges for other companies that wish to work in Liquidmetal, Keller said. As has happened with aluminum, Apple has the factories so tied up with manufacturing its products that other companies find it hard to get theirs fabricated, Keller said.

Other recent reportssuggest that the highly anticipated next iPhone could have a bigger screen and a unibody case.

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Could the next iPhone be like the T-1000 Terminator?

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