Apple has filed a patent application describing a technique for creating fashionably colored carbon fiber device enclosures.
Carbon fiber composites have been around for decades, prized for their light weight and great strength. As such, carbon fiber would be an ideal material for mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones, and mobile internet devices (MIDs) such as, say, the overgrown iPod touch that world+dog expects Apple to release later this year.
Carbon fiber is so popular, in fact, that there's currently a shortage of it. Designers of NASCAR's carbonized Car of Tomorrow, for example, bemoan the fact that carbon fiber composites now cost four to six times as much as aluminum - or, for that matter, as aluminium.
While its high cost may be a drawback for carbon fiber's use in consumer-level electronic devices, Apple sees an even bigger problem. As the company states in its filing, "carbon fiber composites, often being black, provide a narrow range of surface appearance to the molded article and therefore may give a 'tired', unexciting look."
And if there's anything an Apple product can't be, it's tired and unexciting.
And so the filing goes to great length in describing a process in which a carbon fiber composite can be molded in such a way that colored glass-fiber "scrims" can impart their beauty to the composite, thus "providing an improved cosmetic surface of a molded article formed therefrom that is not only consistent in appearance, but is also aesthetically pleasing."
Whether Apple's brainstorm is patentable is a matter for materials scientists to determine. But it's worth mentioning that colored carbon fiber items are far from rare. For example, they're currently available in the automotive industry not only in NASCAR car bodies and parts, but also in consumer-level hoods and dashboards. You can even get colored carbon fiber violin bows and paintball-gun barrels.
Perhaps Apple is blazing a new trail in vibrant, lightweight - and expensive - hardware. And perhaps it has just applied for yet another debatable patent. ®