Friday, April 13, 2012

News Update: Apple's iconic earbuds may be in line for a unibody tweak

A surprisingly disgusting close-up view of some Apple earbuds.

Apple dislikes seams in things. This obsession led it to the point where it spent an estimated $6.6 million on a remodel of its Fifth Avenue store in New York to cut the number of glass layers it was using in its exterior cubic entrance from 90 down to 15.

Now another iconic Apple-made item could be in line for a seamless makeover: the company's earbuds.
In a patent app published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and picked up by Apple Insider, Apple has laid out a plan for ultrasonically welded, unibody headphones.
Before jumping to the conclusion that Apple is ditching its iconic white for aluminum, the design involves joining together several pieces of plastic. That's accomplished with ultrasonic welding, a technique that melts together just the contact points to make a firm bond. This is as opposed to using a liquid, or structural adhesive. By comparison, Apple implies that the ultrasonic method would lead to a more "aesthetically pleasing" and "seamless" device.

This is not the first such mention of ultrasonic as a means of bonding materials in a patent application from Apple. One published last month by the USPTO involved bonding plastic to metal, a process that is more advanced than doing plastic to plastic given the difference in melting points between the two materials. Apple's solution in that case was to add texture to the metal, allowing for the plastic to melt in, and bond with the natural grooves.

Since 2008 Apple has made efforts to make its computers and mobile devices using so-called "unibody" construction techniques, a form of manufacturing that takes a single material and cuts away room for circuitry, batteries, and other components. The end result is a structure that can be thinner, lighter, and stronger than some traditional, multi-piece designs. Earlier this week, the company was rumored to be using that technique in the production of its next iPhone, which is expected in the fall.

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