What will future iPhones by Apple look like?
After Apple realized that competition was soon catching up with it, the California based tech giant decided to go back to the drawing board and pull out all stops to ensure that next year’s iPhone 8 is truly an innovative product. The launch of Google Pixel had a huge role to play behind Apple’s decision to go for a new casing material after competing Android smartphones began adopting the aluminum unibody design. The pixel had also incorporated the glass over aluminum design over 1/3 of its back. Now Apple is is looking to revamp the iPhone range to revive user interests which seemed to be falling after a dismal iPhone 7 showing in the market, after facing flak by users and critics alike for being boring to say the least.
Apple will create an iPhone primarily from ZrO2 – Zirconian Ceramics which will be its fundamental design material.
The Case For (of) Zirconia
Zirconia ceramics  are structured in a martensite-type  transformation mechanism of stress induction. This provides the ability to absorb highest amounts of stress relative to other ceramic materials including:
- Aluminum Nitride
- Boron Carbide
- Boron Nitride
- Silicon Carbide
- Silicon Nitride
- Titanium Diboride
- Tungsten Carbide
Zirconia ceramics exhibits the highest mechanical strength and toughness at room temperature. Zirconium ceramics have the highest fracture toughness of any advanced technical ceramic. Its toughness, mechanical properties and corrosion resistance make it ideal for high pressure applications.
Its thermal expansion coefficient is very close to steel, this property has made Zirconia ceramics the ideal plunger for use in a steel bore. Zirconia has excellent wear, chemical and corrosion resistance, and low thermal conductivity.
Zirconia is very densely packed. Zirconia ceramics usually have a combination of stronger bonds called ionic.
There are also covalent bonds that occurs between two nonmetals and involves sharing of atoms. In general, metals have weaker bonds than ceramics, which allows the electrons to move freely between atoms. This type of bond results in the property called ductility, where the metal can be easily bent without breaking, allowing it to be drawn into wire. Thus although stronger than metals, Zirconia ceramics are a bit more brittle. There are various methods to mitigate these effects.
In relationship to most other materials, Zirconia ceramics exhibits an impervious resistance to scratching. Aluminum in almost all forms exhibits a higher likelihood of retaining scratches, scuffs and staining. Zirconia ceramics also can be pigmented to any color palette with-out the use of exterior paints.
Transparent Zirconia Ceramics
Zirconia ceramics can also be transparent. In 2012 the Tokyo Research Laboratory wrote a landmark paper called the: “Development of highly transparent zirconia ceramics”. Transparent Zirconia ceramics could serve as a new very hard screen.
Apple’s Material Science Odyssey
Apple has been on a journey to craft the products they create from the most advanced elements. Through it’s history Apple has revolutionized the use of Aluminum, from smelting and fabrication to micro-millimeter precision CNC machining. Apple has advanced the use of Aluminum to such a degree they have reached the pinnacle of how much further they can go, other than “transparent Aluminum” (Aluminum oxynitride)
Why is Apple moving to zirconia ceramics?
Heat Conducton/Dissipation – with alumina / aluminum nitride
Ease of manufacturing
Clearly Apple has reached as far as they could with CNC aluminum and has reached the limits of usability for future iPhones. It is one hinderance to the device becoming thinner, as the transverse strength is at the limit. As Apple introduces more advanced chips, they will induce more heat, and this heat needs to be dissipated efficiently.