Apple Inc. is in a deal of getting an exclusively strong, exotic and glossy metallic metal that will provide its computers and phone casings with a shiny and strong exterior.
Liquidmetal Technologies Inc., which is a Caltech spinoff in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., filed a regulatory notice recently that it had granted Apple a perpetual, exclusive license to use its technology in consumer electronics. Liquidmetal will retain the rights for other applications.
So far, Apple has not said anything about the deal. Whether the highly-expensive material will make it in the company’s products is uncertain.
Liquidmetal’s products are mixed with molten metal alloys in such a way that, when they cool, the structure of the material is more similar to glass than metal. The materials have a number of benefits to it. Firstly, it can be cast so precisely that no machining is required afterwards. Secondly, it is a very strong material and is very hard.
Apple has previously used metals in its designs, as it did for Mac which was clad in aluminum. The bodies for its laptops and Mac mini desktop computers are made from large pieces of aluminum. But with Liquidmetal, Apple can stop using aluminum which is a relatively soft metal, prone to denting, scratching and scuffing.
The biggest drawback of Liquidmetal is that it is very expensive because it needs exotic raw materials, including beryllium in its formation. Some Liquidmetal alloys contain large amounts of platinum, which costs $1,500 an ounce these days. The pricey metal is used in luxury watches, luxury phones, medical devices and some sporting gear, such as tennis rackets and skis, but they are far from being mass-market materials.