Long before the release of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, there have been rumors about what may come next. Specifically, these rumors have focused on what may be named the iPhone 8 — a handset in which many have more than a passing interest, and for good reasons. Next year is the iPhone’s tenth anniversary, and big things are expected from Apple to celebrate it.
iPhone 8 and zirconium ceramics
Every year Apple’s fans look to the future and hope/believe that it will do better next year, and 2017, as I explained above, will be no exception. In fact, the pressure is on Apple do produce something unique, such as an iPhone with a complete redesign. One such rumor/hope is that Apple will do away with aluminum and instead use zirconium ceramics. This form of ceramics has the highest fracture toughness of any ceramic, which is perfect for high-pressure applications.
Recently, Brian Rosemmele wrote a post on Quora in which he talked about why Apple will use this material. However, not everyone appears to agree with his assumptions or the rumor in general, and some are suggesting that the iPhone 8 being made from a ceramic material is just not possible. So if you became excited about this possibility, here’s a quick explanation as to why it won’t happen.
Just the usual material for the next iPhone
Product designer Greg Koenig recently wrote an article about why the iPhone 8 won’t get ceramics, and according to him, the whole notion is just not feasible. Right now Apple uses a manufacturing process to produce the white ceramic Apple Watch. However, Koenig believes that it’s nearly impossible for Apple to transfer this process and upscale it for the iPhone 8.
The fact that the white ceramic Apple Watch utilizes this material means that it is the most labor-some smartwatch to manufacture on the market. If Apple were to attempt to upscale this process to the iPhone, it would need two football fields’ worth of kiln space for each iPhone 8, plus there would be a need for 200,000 new employees.
In fact, that’s not all. Here’s an extract from the article, which explains it in detail.
What Greg Koenig had to say
“The process they describe is meticulously executed, and because of the nature of the design – wherein ceramics are mimicking the engineering layout of far more easily produced materials – probably the most laboriously built ceramic watch on the market. In fact, if we scale the numbers used in the booklet up to iPhone-size devices and cycle times, Apple would need 2 football field’s worth of kiln space for each ceramic iPhone to sinter for the requisite 36 hours. For the 2 hours of hard ceramic machining to finish the case details, Apple would need to go from 20,000 CNC machines to 250,000. They would need another 200,000 employees to perform the 2 hours of hand polishing to “bring out the strength and luster.
“More bluntly, not only is Apple not using any new ceramics manufacturing technology in the new Watch Edition. They are not even utilizing the first patent the original Quora article pins most of its extrapolations on. That patent described a vacuum liquid, slurry casting process for ceramics. The Edition watch uses a very simple pressed powder forming method.”
So is the iPhone 8 zirconium ceramics rumor dead and buried? I think it is, as Koenig makes a compelling argument against is use.
Super resolution camera
As we’ve seen with the latest iPhones, Apple has gone to great lengths to improve the quality of its cameras. This year we’ve got two handsets with optical image stabilization for the first time. Optical zoom has also been added, and there’s the dual-lens setup on the 7 Plus — all of which make this year’s duo contenders to be the best cameras on a smartphone ever.
But what will the iPhone 8 get? Will it improve on this? If two new patents discovered by AppleInsider are to be believed, the answer is yes. The patents are extremely technical and talk about sensor technologies, but here’s the layman explanation. The new sensors that Apple is working on will be much better at capturing light, which means better quality images. However, one hurdle for Apple to cross is how it could fit a new system into the tight space of a smartphone.
According to AppleInsider, this problem has already been overcome, with the tech giant using a folded camera design. Apparently, this wouldn’t just solve the space problem but also create space for features like OIS and more zoom capabilities.
While zirconium ceramics will probably not be used for the iPhone 8, it is entirely possible that Apple could use ceramics. Apparently there’s a way to use faux aluminum skins, which have a simple, smooth, but ceramic surface that would be finished to high quality. An iPhone 8 using this would material have all the benefits of zirconium ceramics, including its durability and luster, but the manufacturing cost would be a fraction of what it would be with zirconium ceramics.
As for the camera rumor, this one is plausible because of the fact that Apple has a couple of patents. This does not mean it will happen; however, next year is an important one and Apple needs to produce.