Aug 01, 2023
Why Titanium Is Better for the iPhone 15 Pro
And how Apple got so good at metal Bloomberg Creative Photos / Getty For years, the iPhone Pro has been rimmed with a heavy steel frame, but not for much longer. With the iPhone 15 Pro, Apple may
And how Apple got so good at metal
Bloomberg Creative Photos / Getty
For years, the iPhone Pro has been rimmed with a heavy steel frame, but not for much longer.
With the iPhone 15 Pro, Apple may switch from a steel frame to one made from titanium, and not just because it sounds cooler. Titanium offers many advantages over steel, not least of which is that it is much lighter, which would solve the iPhone Pro's most embarrassing problem compared to the regular iPhone. But titanium has its problems, too, although it's likely that Apple has used its extensive experience with metals to work around these.
"From my professional experience, titanium certainly holds several advantages over steel, especially in terms of strength-to-weight ratio, making it lighter yet stronger than steel. Its resistance to corrosion, and ability to withstand extreme temperatures, also stand out. However, it's not without drawbacks, such as its higher cost and difficulty in machining due to its hardness," Azumi Shoto, metal expert and spokesperson for Japanese sword company Mini Katana, told Lifewire via email.
We know Apple for its cool computer products, but it is also one of the most advanced metal companies in the world, and it even has a team dedicated to metallurgy. Most notable is its knowledge of aluminum. Over the years, it has pioneered a manufacturing process to mill its computer cases from solid billets of aluminum (the Unibody process), and it also recycles the waste aluminum from iPads to make some MacBooks.
Apple even comes up with new ways to create metals. For example, in 2018, it announced that it had developed a new carbon-free aluminum smelting method. It has also experimented with something called liquidmetal (which you may have seen in its guise as the removal tool provided with your iPhone), and the gold Apple Watch Edition even used a special custom gold alloy.
And so we're very excited to see what it has come up with for the iPhone 15 Pro.
"Apple's decision likely stems from a comprehensive evaluation of material properties and user experience, aiming to strike a balance between aesthetics, performance, and practicality. The company's track record of pushing boundaries makes this shift unsurprising," Vikas Kaushik, technology expert and CEO of TechAhead, told Lifewire via email.
So why titanium? Compared to steel, it is much lighter and also tougher. The weight reduction will probably be the most important part for most people, as the Pro phone will no longer be heavier than the cheaper aluminum iPhone.
The company's track record of pushing boundaries makes this shift unsurprising.
Now, a phone doesn't necessarily need a bulletproof frame, but there are other aspects of 'toughness' that aren't to do with being straight-up resilient. Titanium can be used in alloys with some surprisingly diverse properties. When made into a surgical plate to hold healing bones in place, it is extraordinarily rigid. But when used to make the frames and arms of a pair of spectacles, it can flex like plastic, over and over, without breaking.
Combined with its lightness, any of these properties could be desirable in a phone. A frame that can flex to absorb shocks when dropped could help to protect the glass back, the screen, and the internal components, for example.
Another advantage of titanium over steel is that it can be anodized, like aluminum. In iPhone terms, that means that Apple can bring the same fancy bright colors to the Pro iPhone that it uses in the regular aluminum phone lineup.
But titanium is also harder to work with than steel, which is one of the reasons you don't see it as often as other materials. And while Apple has recently used titanium in the Apple Watch, it also has a rather less successful history with the material.
Older readers, or scholars of Apple's mistakes over the years, will remember the Titanium Powerbook, an incredible machine with some serious flaws. For example, early models suffered from screen hinges that would snap under normal use.
And my favorite TiBook (as it was nicknamed) oddity is that it was painted, so that cool, bronze-y titanium-like finish wasn't actually titanium. Or not at first, anyway. After a while, this paint would flake off, revealing the raw metal beneath.
One can safely assume that if the iPhone 15 Pro does indeed use titanium, Apple will have solved these problems and that it will also have an interesting story to tell about why titanium is suddenly so much better than the steel it has been happy with for years.
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