Carbon Fiber Apple Gadgets

Thomas Ricker at Engadget:

Speculation about the latter has been fueled by an Apple patent application for a process that would use carbon fiber materials woven into the reinforced device housings of mobile telephones, laptops, desktops, and tablets. Interestingly enough, the patent app was filed by Kevin M. Kenney (developer of the first all carbon fiber bicycle frame) on behalf of Apple back in 2009, a man who changed his job title to “Senior Composites Engineer at Apple Inc.” on LinkedIn at some point after March 1st (according to Google cache).

Is mass manufactured carbon fiber in the near future? Will Apple be the first to integrate carbon fiber into consumer electronics on a large scale? I’m not a carbon fiber expert but I’m guessing the simpler the shape the easier it is to weave carbon fiber. Faster, too. What Apple product has a simple shape and absolutely must be lighter? The iPhone 4 certainly can benefit from being lighter but there isn’t a simple shape that can benefit from carbon fiber; at least I don’t see it. The MacBooks are fine since if you really must have the lightest you’d opt for the MacBook Airs. Of course there is that need for the larger MacBook Pros to be lighter. And there is a component that is pretty simple in shape: the LCD lid. But the weight savings might not be that much.

That brings us to the iPad. The back of the iPad is a single piece of aluminum that’s not only a bit thick but also quite heavy. It needs to be thick enough to provide enough rigidness but that also adds weight. I think the best application of carbon fiber, if Apple were to apply the composite into an existing product, would be the next iPad, or iPad 3.

On the display side, Apple could thin down the current iPad 2 by optical lamination and using only the LCD cell and backlight unit much like it did on the super-thin MacBook Air. Optical lamination will eliminate the air gap, but make it more expensive and difficult to repair, and using only the LCD cell and BLU instead of a module will thin down the iPad considerably.