Apple Licenses Ultra-Strong Metal Alloy Tech

Apple's future iPods, iPads and Macs could be super-durable and lightweight, after the company signed a deal with Liquidmetal Technologies to license the latter's IP for a specialized metal alloy.

Apple products could become a little lighter and a lot tougher, after the company signed an agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies to use the latter's metal alloys in their products.

As first noted by the blog Apple Insider, Liquidmetal Technologies filed a Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Aug. 5, noting that "substantially all of its intellectual property assets" had been contributed to a wholly-owned subsidiary, which in turn had granted Apple the rights to use those assets in consumer electronics. In exchange, Liquidmetal Technologies will receive a licensing fee.

Whereas traditional metals' atomic structure is crystalline, Liquidmetal Technologies' alloys are amorphous, with no atomic-level patterning. The company claims that, as a result, its alloys feature a higher yield strength, hardness, corrosion- and wear-resistance, and superior strength/weight ratio to traditional metals and alloys. Potential applications include medical devices and defense projects.

"In addition, Liquidmetal alloys have very low melting temperature relative to their constituent metals," reads a note on the company's Website. "As a result, it is possible to fabricate Liquidmetal alloys in intricate and sophisticated designs without costly post-finishing processes." Certain Liquidmetal alloys, the note suggests, are more than twice the strength of conventional titanium alloys.

In theory, this would allow Apple to build lighter, smaller, stronger products, as well as experiment with more unconventional form-factors that nonetheless possess physical strength and durability.

"This revolutionary material will enable applications that will render obsolete current technology based on materials from titanium to plastic," the Liquidmetal Technologies' Website concludes.

Apple's current design language focuses on metal, including the aluminum unibody used in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Making that metal tougher and more lightweight would obviously be a prime goal for Apple as it places an increasing amount of strategic emphasis on mobile devices.

For the third fiscal quarter of 2010, Apple reported sales of 3.27 million iPads, 8.4 million iPhones, and 9.41 million iPods, along with 3.47 million Macs. During a July 20 earnings call, Apple executives insisted that the company was ramping up production to accommodate demand for iPads.

As September approaches, along with Apple's expected refresh of its iPod line, rumors abound that the company will produce not only a new generation of portable media devices, but also a 7-inch iPad for release in either late 2010 or early 2011. Whether or not those rumors pan out, Apple is certainly considering what features and designs will find their way into the upcoming versions of its devices; but the role of Liquidmetal's intellectual property in those devices remains to be seen.