Apple’s next enclosure material?

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.


MacBook Pro berylliumBeryllium 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.

  1. in gas or dust forms it is dangerous to humans (as a gas this is Berlyium Oxide BeO …. spookly almost BeOS ;-)
  2. 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.


2 responses

  1. Avatar for steve

    I think the most sensible thing Apple could do is to try to be more than a hardware company. They create some great software but because they insist on it only being available on a small subset of hardware - basically you can choose fairly cheap but not good enough for many people (MacBook) or super-high spec and overpriced (MacBook Pro). Given that the only thing stopping OSX from beating Vista hands-down is application support, I've never understood why they insist on keeping it so tightly to their chest and limiting its use to something like 5% of the population.

    There needs to be a model smack in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro, with 'good enough' specs that can compete with the likes of the Windows laptops. Or, sell OSX to other hardware manufacturers. Apple's elitist attitude is so limiting - you're either well heeled enough to pay well over the odds for the top-end, or you're a pleb who just wants the cheapo non-Pro version. In my experience the vast majority of people are actually in the middle and Apple don't seem to care about capturing that market even though it's ripe for the taking.

    steve March 21, 2007
  2. Avatar for portrait painting

    Did you mean beryllium? Considering that Apple is thinking of using these cheaper materials will that also mean that their products will come in a cheaper price? If yes, then that will surely be great news especially to Asians whose work rely much on high end computers and laptops.

    portrait painting November 28, 2007