Liquidmetal iPhone 5? Not this year, inventor claims

By Jonny Evans

The season for iPhone 5 rumor continues, with Liquidmetal inventor, Dr. Atakan Peker telling Business Insider that Apple [AAPL] is likely "years away" from being able to deploy the tech in a major way.

'Yet to be matured'

"This is a technology that has yet to be matured and perfected both in manufacturing process and application development," Peker said. "I should note that this is a completely new and different metal technology."

What is Liquidmetal? "Liquidmetal is the trade name for a new class of metallic alloys. The alloys have a unique atomic structure, more like glass, and are commonly known as "bulk metallic glasses" or "bulk amorphous alloys."

Dr. Peker, inventor of the formulation that became Liquidmetal said that Apple will need to make huge (around $500 million or so) investments in manufacturing tools to "take full advantage of this alloy technology."

So no thin iPhone?

His claims pour cold water on speculation Apple intends deploying the alloy in future notebooks and the next-generation iPhone. Dr. Peker's Liquidmetal heart club will be most disappointed. After all, it was only last month when Korea's ETNews (which MacRumors warned as potentially an unreliable source) cited "industry sources" who claimed Apple intends using the process in the creation of iPhone 5.

If the good doctor is right, all we'll see of this substance inside any immediately-scheduled Apple products is likely to be the little things: hinges, brackets or screws, rather than the fully extruded, ultra-light, ultra-thin iPhones and Macs we have all been hoping for.

Even use of the alloy within small parts would offer advantages to Apple, which has an exclusive license to use the technology: "Liquidmetal is super strong, scratch and corrosion resistant, resilient and can be precision cast into complex shapes," Peker said.

He argues that while plastics are cheap to manufacture in complex shapes, they aren't strong enough.Glass can be made into complex shapes and looks great, but is fragile, and metal is hard to mould into such shapes. Liquidmetal combines advantages from all these elements, while also being extremely robust.

Breakthrough product?

In the future? The doctor expects the alloy could be used to replace existing components with a breakthrough product at some future point. "Such product will likely bring an innovative user interface and industrial design together, and will also be very difficult to copy or duplicate with other material technologies," Peker said.

If the doctor is right, (though as the inventor of the technology he probably has a far greater insight than yours truly), and Apple doesn't use the alloy in a future iPhone then it remains a certainty that these Liquidmetal rumors will ooze their way through the Crazy Apple Rumor machine for many months to come.

After all, the doctor's parting shot suggests some real future opportunities for product improvement and minituarization in Apple's future.

But his claims seemingly contradict a company announcement from Liquidmetal itself, which 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.

Where does this leave us? If nothing else, Apple's winning the media campaign once again. By the time it introduces its next iteration of smartphone, the product will have been thoroughly discussed, speculated upon and pondered upon.

Take a look at all the recent coverage here:

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.   

Related:
Computerworld's IT Salary Survey 2017 results
Shop Tech Products at Amazon