1. Akshay Masand's Avatar


    According to a recently published US patent application, Apple is actively researching ways to make its products more resistant to moisture, a feature which is sometimes attributed to “active” smartphone models marketed by competing smartphone manufacturers. The filing is entitled “Methods for shielding electronic components from moisture.”

    In the filing, instead of sealing off the entire housing device like a common wristwatch, the Cupertino California company proposes coating integral components such as the printed circuit board (PCB), with a hydrophobic coating. By depositing the coating via plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD) would create an acceptable insulating layer to protect against short circuits that occur when high voltage parts are exposed to liquid.

    Apple describes the PACVD process as involving charging the surface of a given substrate, in this case a device’s PCB, before placing the device in a vacuum chamber filled with a fluoropolymer gas. When the voltage is applied to the gas, the voltage turns into plasma and ends up settling on and adhering to the charged substrate. According to the application, the layer can be between one and ten microns thick, a plus for small form factor portable devices with little internal room to spare. This process can be used to help coat various exposed surfaced on fully assembled devices. That being said internal structures like electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding might restrict deposition on critical components. This particular shielding is necessary for almost all of Apple’s products and can be found in iPhones, iPads and more.

    In an effort to overcome this obstacle, the document suggests small openings be disposed in the EMI shield, right above the sensitive electrical components located on the PCB. In some situations, the holes can be made large enough to allow the plasma in but small enough to restrict passage of the EMI which would keep the cage’s integrity in one piece. Other embodiments provide larger openings in the EMI shield. In these particular cases the perimeter around an opening can be masked with tape during the PACVD process. By removing the mask and covering the opening with a metal tape patch, in electrical contact with the unmasked shield portion, restoring the cage’s protective properties.

    The other parts that are susceptible to water damage are board-to-board connectors that are left uncoated. The document specifically noted that solder leads can protrude out of a connector’s fitting, opening it up to corrosion and short circuit events. To prevent the leads from moisture ingress, the silicone seals can be applied to the receptacle side of a given connector and mating flex cables.

    As of right now it’s unclear whether Apple will employ more aggressive moisture protection in future products but as the company moves into the wearables industry with the Apple Watch, consumers may end up expecting a certain level of waterproofing from its devices. The Apple Watch itself was designed with a minimal level of splash resistance as CEO Tim Cook recently revealed it can be worn in the shower.

    The waterproofing patent application was first filed for back in March of 2014 and credits Nicholas G. Merz, Scott A. Myers, Gregory N. Stephens and Joseph C. Poole as its inventors.

    We’ll have to wait and see what Apple ends up doing by waiting patiently.

    Source: USPTO via AppleInsider

    Twitter: @AkshayMasand
    2015-03-07 06:19 AM
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