Recent documents show that engineers at Apple have been working a new way to save falling iPhones from internal damage when being dropped.
The documents and diagrams filled by Apple with the United States Patent and Trade Office, and discovered by AppleInsider, detail a way in which an iPhone could detect that it is in free fall and reorient itself in a way that would protect crucial components from being completely destroyed after hitting the ground.
In Apple’s patent, an array of sensors that are already available in today’s smartphones like an ambient light sensor, gyroscope and GPS chip, would detect that the device is falling by collecting information like fall height and speed. That data would then be used to trigger some kind of steering mechanism to change the orientation of the device. Some of the steering mechanisms in the documents include sails, a can of compressed air and (most notably) a compact weight that’s embedded in the device. Options included in the patent application also describe a way in which internal motors would use cables – like a set of headphones for example, to reorient the device as well.
Though all of these methods of protecting an iPhone do seem to fly in the face of Apple’s usual trend of building their devices to be as thin and light as possible, to say that something like the system described in the patents couldn’t be useful for iPhone owners would be a stretch. The iPhone 4/4s was nearly completely covered in hardened glass. That design worried many users, so much so that sealing the device in nearly indestructible cases like Otterbox’s Armor Series has now become the norm. Apple is now using an aluminum back on its iPhone 5, though users will still have to contend with the possibility of dropping their device without any case and breaking their display.
The use of cases has become the new normal and it’s important to remember why. Popular trends in smartphone design necessitate hardware manufacturers continue making thinner and lighter devices that push the edge of industrial design. Sturdy internal frames and the use of metals and alloys as outer casing can lessen the amount of damage that could be done to a smartphone, however modern operating systems are built around the idea of having large touchscreens that users can interact with. These screens tend to be more susceptible to cracking and chipping in a fall.