Olivier wonders about Apple’s next enclosure material and that got me pondering. Jobs has already utilized:
- magnesium (NeXT stations/cubes)
- titanium (PowerBook)
- aluminum alloy (MacBook)
- polycarbonate (iMac, iPod, iBook)
The current Intel machines reused the existing PowerPC enclosure designs – at least superficially – for the iMac, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro machines. Only the MacBook got to knock the older iBook design away.
What material could be next?
Carbon fiber has already been partially used by the likes of Acer and Sony on laptops. Whilst it might be light and strong it is brittle and the thermal conductivity is opposite to what you’re looking for in a laptop.
Jobs also loves metal enclosures at least at the high-end of the market where the price can cover the cost – although apparently not enough to absorb commercial-grade titanium any more hence the PowerBook switch to aluminum.
There are plenty of metals and alloys out there but besides cost they need to be tooled into the designs Apple want, finished to a high standard that won’t corrode or easily mark, strong and inflexible, lightweight and ideally possess good thermal conductivity.
Beryllium is cheaper than titanium and has all the important characteristics described above plus a few extra bonuses that make it a primary candidate:
- easily x-ray’ed through (think laptops at airports)
- tarnish resistant to high skin acidity (a problem with existing painted aluminum enclosures)
- available in a variety of colors (why not have a selection… the iMac, iBook and iPod Nano have)
Bear in mind that most of Apple’s equipment (and indeed the majority of the worlds laptops) are manufactured at only a handful of companies out in the far east (Quanta, Compal, Foxconn) they would need to be heavily involved in the process.
But then pushing for breakaway designs that require advanced tooling and alternative manufacturing approaches is one of Job’s passions and what keeps Apple’s hardware looking that one step ahead.
There are two potential problems with beryllium.
- in gas or dust forms it is dangerous to humans (as a gas this is Berlyium Oxide BeO …. spookly almost BeOS ;-)
- it reacts with lithium – as used in the current Lithium Ion batteries
Given that Apple use batteries by Sony and there are a couple of stories about the laptops catching fire this could be a problem – especially given that your laptop catching fire is bad enough when it isn’t violently reacting with the battery and producing carcinogenic gases.