Apple eyes slicker mobile devices

Apple Inc
Apple Inc

(MoneyWatch) Apple (AAPL) seems on a perpetual quest to build ever more impressive housings for its mobile devices. And the last two weeks have seen a couple of developments, documented by patent findings, that give an idea of where the company might be going.

The first, reminiscent of Apple's glass store, was described in a patent application dubbed "glass enclosure" that was filed last September and made public today. (Although I came across this in my usual research, Michael Gorman at Engadget beat me to it.)

The idea is to create "an integral and substantially seamless enclosure that surrounds and protects internal operational components of the portable computing device." The glass housing could have parts bonded together or even extruded for seamless front, back, and sides. Components would likely slide in from the top or bottom, with a cap closing the space.

As the patent application makes plain, the glass could be scratch-proof and even water-proof, keeping the surface of the device looking good and its insides dry even when accidentally exposed to water. The glass would be transparent to radio signals, so the mobile antenna could be contained internally. That would also allow the device to connect to other equipment wirelessly through a Bluetooth connection.

The other patent application is called "ultrasonic bonding of discrete plastic parts to metal." Apple's lawyers also filed this application last September, although it is associated with applications that go back to 2008. The idea here is to use ultrasound to bond plastic parts to metal in a device housing, rather than using adhesive, which can come loose over time. As the application further explains:

Alternatively, different parts can be welded or otherwise fused to each other as another mode of attachment. In the case of metal parts, however, the high heat associated with a traditional welding process can alter the shape, color and/or texture of the metal parts. Such high heat can also damage or affect other parts that may be in the vicinity of the weld. As such, many types of welds cannot be performed at later stages of an assembly process. Further, the complexity of features or other internal parts is limited to relatively simple components where the fusion welding of metal parts to each other is concerned.

In the past, ultrasonic welding was used to attach plastic parts together, but not plastic and metal.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.