Apple will be getting exclusive access to an exotic metallic material, with possible uses including phone casings and exterior computer components.
Apple isn't saying anything about the deal, and it's far from certain that the material will ever make it into its products. Though it matches the sleek Apple aesthetic, it's prohibitively expensive.
The name “Liquidmetal” brings to mind the silvery, shapeshifting villain of the “Terminator 2” movie, but the company's products are somewhat less dramatic. It mixes molten metal alloys in such a way that, when they cool, the structure of the material is more similar to glass than metal.
Whlie the materials aren't translucent they have other interesting benefits: one is that the cast is precise, requiring little or no machining afterward. And this “metallic glass” can also be very hard without being brittle.
Apple, as most know, is big on using metal in its designs. Virtually every Mac is clad in aluminum, as well as the bodies for its laptops and Mac mini desktop computers. But aluminum is also a relatively soft metal, and is prone to denting, scratching, and scuffing.
Liquidmetal is still expensive because it needs exotic raw materials such as beryllium and platinum. These are far from being mass-market materials.
“I believe there's an opportunity for Liquidmetal to be a catalyst for changing the way that product designers think about building their products. It's that different,” Liquidmetal CEO Thomas Steipp told the Globe and Mail. “We have to prove that, but certainly from what I've seen as technology executive evaluating the technology before I came in ... we've made a lot of progress over the last eight years.”
Apple values aesthetics and physical design visibly more than most other hardware manufacturers - and in fact, the same can be said for its visual design of software too. But there is a price to be had for quality design.