Will the iPhone have good looks AND good reception? Will the internal antenna hinder radio performance? Well, a recent patent application by Apple sheds some light on this issue. Want to find out for yourself? Then keep reading to find out. (Long read, answer at the end)
Is it just us or did everyone else fall in love with the iPhone at first sight? The iPhone’s sleek and minimalist body is almost Apple’s calling card when it comes to design and form factor. No wonder there are throngs of people who can’t wait to get their hands on this phone. We all know by now that the antenna is internal (would Apple even think about a stub? We think not), but does that come with the requisite compromised performance? Some digging and a lot of really boring reading from the USPTO website revealed United States Patent Application #20060268528. This application has shed some light on Apple’s choice of materials.
Lets think about what an internal antenna design means for cell phones. Besides being the aesthetically optimal form, internal antennas are ergonomic as well. You can handle the phone more easily, there is nothing poking you in your pocket (if you wear pants), there is no stub to break off. But what else does that mean? Generally, internal antennas will reduce radio performance. Cell phone casings are made from plastic and/or aluminum. These materials are, for the most part, not completely "transparent" to radio waves. But form tends to beat out function and many phones internalize that antenna stub to appeal to consumers (note that external stubs are usually found on enterprise oriented devices, where function is more important in communication critical environments).
The United States Patent Application #20060268528 mentions that the ceramic material, dubbed "Zirconia", was developed to meet a long list of criteria. Apple says these qualifications are "including but not limited to strength (tensile), density (lightweight), strength to weight ratio, Young’s modulus, corrosion resistance, formability, finishing, recyclability, tooling costs, design flexibility, manufacturing costs, manufacturing throughput, reproduceability,…electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, radiowave transparency, combustibility, toxicity, …aesthetics including color, surface finish, weight, etc."
Now, who spotted "radiowave transparency" in that last paragraph? And that is exactly what Apple intended. By burying the real purpose of this patent application (radio transparent ceramics) under an overwhelming list of techno-babble (c’mon everything is chosen for its aesthetics), Apple can keep its iPhone a great big mystery – which only increases the buzz and desirability of the device.
Another interesting quote shows how Apple is covering ALL their bases while still not giving away any solid details on any product: "Although not shown, the internal components may also include components for processing, transmitting and/or receiving wireless signals (e.g., transmitter, receiver, antenna, etc.). By way of example, the device may include components for supporting FM, RF, Bluetooth, 802.11, etc."
This patent does seem to apply to the iPhone. Would Apple really add WiFi to an iPod?
Regardless, the iPhone sports a Zirconia casing on its backside. The back of the iPhone is not emphasized in Apple’s official press photos, but live pictures provide visual confirmation of the Zirconia back. That’s the same Zirconia that was described as the radio transparent ceramic. And to add to the functional benefits, it’s aesthetically pleasing.
So what does this mean for the iPhone and its internal antenna? Well, we basically have confirmation through photos, press releases, and most importantly, the patent application, that the internal antenna will be housed under the radio transparent ceramic (Zirconia). That means we will all get quality reception in a beautiful form factor in the iPhone!