Liquid metal rock


Will the iPhone 5 be made of Terminator-like liquid metal?

Government agencies such as the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration that are thinking of moving to iPhones for their mobile communications might want to wait until the iPhone 5 is released.

According to Korea IT news, which has gotten more than one tech scoop correct, the next iPhone will be made of Liquidmetal, making it the most durable and lightweight frame ever to grace a smart phone. And it probably will be the coolest looking gadget ever designed to boot.

Liquidmetal, you ask? What the heck is Liquidmetal? Well, sadly, it’s not the material seen in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," so it won’t be able to melt itself down and form into a miniature T-1000 or Arnold Schwarzenegger to beat up all your other smart phones.

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Liquidmetal (one word) is the trademarked name for an alloy that is a mix of zirconium, titanium, nickel, copper and a few other things. It’s incredibly strong, looks like it’s wet all the time, and has some pretty amazing properties.

The company that owns Liquidmetal, which goes by the same name, posted a YouTube video showing one of its cooler features in relation to stainless steel and titanium, and, I have to admit, it kind of looks like magic. You can view the video at the end of this story.

What makes me think that the Korea IT news site probably called this one right is Apple's decision to pay the Liquidmetal Technology company $20 million dollars for the right to use it in their phones. I doubt even Apple would shell out that kind of cash on a whim.

What makes the Liquidmetal material so great to work with is that it can be injection-molded into any shape, just like plastic. Right now, most metals have to be bent into shape. A few less-durable metals can go through a process called die-casting, which is sort of like injection molding, but done under very high pressure. The problem with that process is that it tends to make materials less resistant to scratching. That’s OK in your car’s engine block but probably not that great for a tiny tool that you will probably handle every single day.

Apparently, LiquidMetal injection molding is more like injecting plastic molds, where it’s practically just poured into the needed shape, or at least done without the need for such high pressure to force things. But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that, to the point where reports say making something out of Liquidmetal is still an expensive prospect compared to most everything else.

Good thing Apple has never worried about producing an expensive product before. Perhaps the iPhone 5 will cost more than any other phone because of it, but my guess is that people will line up to get one anyway if it has the right combination of ruggedness and an ultra-cool factor that would be hard to beat.

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Reader Comments

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 Keith Hice

This is very much like the metal injection molding (MIM) process that has been in place for decades and relies upon a powdered alloy and binder that is injected into molds very much like plastic injection molding. It seems the chief advantages of the LiquidMetal process are:
That its amorphous atomic structure yields components of greater hardness than the crystalline structure of MIM and that it has greater resistance to elastic deformation at room temperatures yet is susceptible to catastrophic plastic deformation without warning.

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 LA

Yawn. Buying things doesn't make you useful. Using the things you buy makes you useful. What do I care if it's made out of old tires, or a metal that may be found later on to cause peripheral neuropathy?

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 WDC

You say "The problem with that process is that it tends to make materials less resistant to scratching. That’s OK in your car’s engine block but probably not that great for a tiny tool that you will probably handle every single day." My question is their a health risk that you did not mention here? Is it safe to use? Or does it cause other problems?

Thu, Apr 26, 2012

If you drop it will it bounce right back into your hands? If you miss you may get several chances to catch it!

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 Pipol

There'll definitely be a strong focus on Mountain Lion. Heck, they could even announce its' availability at WWDC, saying it's on the App Store right now. Possibly iOS 6 announcements, but I'm not sure about hardware, it is, after all the WorldWide Developers Conference... :-)

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