New Apple Invention Aims to Protect the iPhone’s Audio Parts



As the expected launch date for Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) next-generation iPhone draws nearer, industry watchers are continuing to comb the Cupertino-based company’s patent filings for inventions that may offer clues about the technical specifications of the so-called iPhone 6. A recently published patent uncovered by Apple Insider titled, “Active protection for acoustic device,” offers some tantalizing clues about a technology that may be incorporated into the next iPhone iteration.

As noted by Apple Insider, the patent outlines a new method for protecting the increasingly small and sensitive audio components that are used in the latest smartphones. Although most smartphones today rely on protective grilles or foam cushioning to keep sensitive audio parts from sustaining damage, Apple’s patent proposes a more sophisticated method for protecting a device’s microphones and speakers.

According to the patent, microphones and speakers are often installed in “acoustic passages” that serve to amplify or direct sound toward the audio components. However, these passages can also inadvertently cause damage to audio components in certain situations. For example, if a phone is dropped, the air pressure directed into the acoustic passages can harm the speaker or microphone with a directed burst of air. This is typically caused by a drop that forces air into the acoustic passage, but can also be caused by extremely loud sounds that can similarly damage the internal acoustic components.

According to the patent seen by Apple Insider, Apple proposes using a mechanical shutter that would quickly cover the microphones or speakers before the audio components could be damaged. The shutter would be activated based on data provided by the device’s accelerometer or gyroscope. For example, if the iPhone’s accelerometer detected that the device was in a free fall, it would snap the shutter closed in order to preserve the internal audio components.

Other embodiments use the audio component’s own sound detection capabilities to activate the protective shutter. For example, if the microphone detected a sound that was approaching a volume threshold that could damage the component, it would partially or fully close the shutter. As noted by Apple Insider, the shutter would be operated by either solenoids or a microelectromechanical system that would open or close the shutter via a “gear drive, stepped motor or other applicable mechanism.”

While it is not known if Apple has plans to incorporate this technology into the next generation of iPhones, there are several other rumors about novel technologies that may be used in the upcoming iPhone 6. According to supply chain sources cited by various media outlets, Apple’s iPhone 6 will be available in two larger screen sizes. The smaller model is rumored to feature a 4.7-inch screen while the larger model may feature a screen size of 5.6 inches.

Apple’s investment in GT Advanced Technologies’ sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona and information derived from import/export documents obtained by 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman and analyst Matt Margolis suggests that the displays of the next-generation iPhones will be made of sapphire — an extremely hard and scratch-resistant material. More recently, an insider source cited by BrightWire reported that Apple’s iPhone 6 will include Near Field Communication (NFC) technology for a new wireless mobile payments system. Apple is widely expected to launch its next iPhone sometime during the fall of this year.

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