iPhone 5: Thinner, lighter, faster -- and poured?

By Jonny Evans

The latest unreliable iPhone 5 rumor to cross my desk claims the future Apple [AAPL] smartphone will be created using a new 'liquid metal' technology, so the next model to emerge from the iPhone factories over in China may not be cast, but poured.

LiquidMetal

Granted, that's an over-simplification of the LiquidMetal Technology process. Apple acquired rights to use these patented alloys way back in 2010. Since it acquired them it doesn't seem to have done much with the process, which it paid $30 million for. There have been some claims LiquidMetal alloys have been used in batteries and (wait for it) inside the SIM removal tool, but these are unverified and in any case don't seem especially good uses of such expensive technology.

This may change in iPhone 5, according to a report in Korea's ETNews. That report cites "industry sources" who claim Apple intends using the process in the device, which will be thinner and lighter as a result.

This sounds interesting, but bear in mind MacRumors warning as to the track record of the site making the claims. In addition, the report claims a June WWDC debut for the device.

Building new production lines

I don't buy that as I feel it makes more sense for Apple to introduce the iPhone 5 just before Christmas in order to exploit the gift-purchasing season, particularly as this historically worked so very well with the iPhone 4S and the iPod nano, both of which saw huge launch sales in that period.

There could be some fire to this smoke. LiquidMetal announced in March that it had begun shipping commercial parts to several of its customers. "Parts delivery began this past December with continuing shipments scheduled for the months ahead," the press release said.

Given recent claims Apple's iPhone factory partner, Foxconn, has begun recruiting staff to run its iPhone 5 production lines, is it possible the partners are beginning to create the production lines for new iPhones using LiquidMetal?

Last week's claims the new device would boast a 'Unibody' case attracted lots of attention. It is possible that usiing such alloys would enable Apple to build such a case at relatively low cost.

If that is the situation then it makes sense that Apple and Foxconn will need to develop a new production process for the new device.

Such a process would need to be sufficiently tested and sufficiently robust to manufacture millions of iPhone 5 units each month. Assembling and finessing the new production line will certainly take some time. Perhaps that's why workers are being recruited now, presumably to test the process?

Thinner, new display technologies

LiquidMetal president and CEO Tom Steipp said in a press release: "We are very excited about the use of amorphous alloy technology to deliver stronger, lighter, and more corrosion resistant parts to our customers in varying industries globally. These initial shipments represent a significant milestone in our efforts to provide a new class of materials for our customers to consider when designing complex parts."

That delivery of these components has begun needn't suggest a June release of the device, though we'll be watching closely in the weeks ahead.

The iPhone 5 seems certain to be thinner. A report today cites David Hsieh, vice president of DisplaySearch, who says the iPhone 5 will use thinner displays based on in-cell technology. "Of course, Taiwanese panel makers are also developing this technology, but Japanese suppliers still run faster," Hsieh said.

This suggests Apple will purchase iPhone 5 displays from Sony, Sharp and Toshiba. This makes sense following Foxconn's move last month to take a big stake in Sharp.

Use of in-cell tech would make the display thinner because the touch sensors are placed within the color filters, rather than on top of them.

Summing-up: Speculation now suggests the iPhone 5 will be thinner, lighter and sturdier than the 4-series. Use of LiquidMetal technology could enable a new chassis design (teardrop?), and use of a thinner, lighter, lower-power display should enable Apple to achieve that other speculated rumor: a larger 4-inch screen, while still delivering good battery life.

What else can we expect? Read:

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