It sounds like a terrible idea: Apple has filed a patent that will essentially make the bezel and the glass front one solid piece. Essentially this would render your iPhone a completely closed system; it’d be impossible to swap out the screen, for example. And, yeah, that doesn’t sound like a great idea. But Apple does have a few reasons for doing this.
1. It Uses LiquidMetal
LiquidMetal is essentially a custom alloy that gives you all the useful properties of plastic and metal in one substance. It’s extremely hard wearing, it’s extremely flexible… and it’s very good at absorbing impact. Currently, your iPhone uses a rubber gasket to keep your screen attached to your phone and serve as a shock absorber when you drop it. LiquidMetal would be able to do that while lasting longer, meaning that your iPhone, in turn, will be a lot less likely to break.
2. It Means Fewer Points Of Failure
You’ve probably heard, at some point, the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This isn’t just some fancy metaphor about covering your bases; it’s also some pretty basic advice about engineering. Apple has been trying to reduce the number of points of failure in the iPhone’s design for, more or less, the entire time it’s been on the market. There are a bunch of changes to the iPhone 5S, for example, that you wouldn’t see unless you were poking around under the hood and had some materials science background.
Making the bezel and the screen all in one piece will mean that there’s a stronger bond between them and thus it’s less likely to fail. That doesn’t mean it’s failure-proof, but at least it’s less likely to break.
3. Apple Has Been Testing This For A Long, Long Time
The patent in question that sparked all this debate has been grinding through the Patent office pretty much only a year after the iPhone itself came along in 2007. It took six years for Apple’s patent to be granted. And they haven’t been sitting on their hands in the meantime.
It’s always good when a tested technology comes to market, if for no other reason than you really don’t want to be the one beta-testing it.
4. Apple Was Never Going To Make The iPhone More Open Anyway
For all the dreams and hopes, Apple is a company built on the philosophy of closed architecture systems. There is one way Apple products are built, and you don’t get to open them up and fiddle around under the hood, no matter what you may argue. Essentially anything that makes it harder for you to modify or open your phone is something Apple loves; why do you think you need to put your SIM card in a little slot instead of opening up the back of your phone?
So, really, any hope Apple would make the iPhone more accessible to users was a pipe dream, but hey, at least we’re getting something useful out of this one.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.