Will future iPhones be plated in gold?

17th April 2018
Lanna Deamer

Consumers got excited enough when the gold-coloured iPhone 5 was released in 2013. Things got even blingier for the Cupertino-based technology giant’s followers when rose gold devices hit the shelves in 2015. But does Apple have something even shinier in mind? Melissa Albeck, CEO of materials comparison website Matmatch, explores the potential future of the iPhone.

In October 2017, Apple submitted a revised patent application encompassing several earlier application from 2013 and 2014, entitled Crystalline Gold Alloys with Improved Hardness. The patent details the process with which the hardness and strength of 18 or 24-carat gold can be increased significantly through particular alloying.

Gold is known to be a soft metal, around 130-150 using the Vickers hardness method, and is thus not appropriate for use as external casing of devices. Apple’s most popular products, among them mobile phones, laptops, tablets and watches, are subjected to regular wear and tear and thus should be enclosed in material that can withstand scratches and dents.

The patent application determines that a hardness of 300 Vickers or above would be particularly suitable for this application. Further alloying of 18-carat or 24-carat gold alloys would serve to achieve this while still retaining the attractive colour and shine.

The alloy in question is a heady combination of gold and copper and further metallic elements. Different variations of the composition for such alloys are proposed which all aim to enhance properties of hardness and durability. Proposed alloying elements are silver, cobalt, iridium, ruthenium and palladium, as well as smaller quantities of zinc, tantalum, boron, titanium and zirconium. The alloy would then be subject to extra treatments including rolling, heating and/or ageing.

New shades of gold
Apple released the original gold-coloured iPhone in 2013 in response to feedback from the Chinese market - Chinese consumers love the color gold and the positive response to the shade exceeded expectations. The elegant rose gold hue that first appeared on the Russian market at the turn of the 19th century trended once again in 2015.

Apple reacted accordingly, releasing iPhones and Apple watches in rose gold that were received extremely well across the globe.

A major advantage of these new gold alloys would be the color variety: the shade changes according to the alloy composition, and possible tones include purple gold, blue gold, green gold, grey gold, pink gold and red gold along with the more well-known shades of rose gold, yellow gold and white gold.

History repeating itself
There is already 30mg of gold bullion used in every iPhone’s interior components. And genuine gold plating of iPhones is not a completely new concept. The London and Dubai-based GoldGenie offers 24-carat liquid gold plating of just about any object out there for the right price.

The company recently accepted pre-orders for gold-plated, diamond encrusted iPhone 8 models (solid 18-carat gold interior detailing optional). At the time of writing, the spot price of gold is approximately $1,284.00 per ounce.

Despite Apple’s patent submission last year ahead of the iPhone X release, the device is only available in space grey and silver. Rose gold and gold-colored iPhone owners may have to settle for slightly less glamorous hues for now, unless the most recent patent application sees real gold alloy enclosures on the cards for the iPhones of the future.

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