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Bold News! All Butterfingers Rejoice! Your iPhone May Soon Be Able To Save Itself From A Fall

Smartphone users can all relate to the sense of fear and panic they feel upon seeing their smartphone falling out of their hands or pockets, and falling head first onto the hard ground or pavement. They may rush over in a panic to check and see what damage has been done to their valuable phone from the sudden fall and crash. No less common is the inconvenience and distress that comes with discovering your smartphone has fallen into some type of liquid. Smartphones are routinely dropped into bathtubs, sinks, lakes, rivers, drink cups, and many more places we may be embarrassed to admit. Interestingly, surveys have been taken that reveal that 19% of all smartphone holders have dropped their smartphone into the toilet by mistake!

Smartphones are rightfully described as “digital leashes” that their owners cannot live without, because they are carried absolutely everywhere. A smartphone has become an absolute necessity while going about one’s day-to-day activities, and also while engaging in leisure and athletic activities, such as going to the gym. It is certainly an ongoing problem for many smartphone owners that one too many hard falls to the ground or other types of surfaces ends up causing damage to their phone, including poor performance or no performance at all. In addition, smartphones are inevitably dinged and scraped, and become unsightly over time along the corners and outer edges, where most of the impact from the fall is immediately apparent.

Fortunately, the latest patent awarded to Apple seeks to remedy this ongoing problem with an innovative solution. Issued on April 4, 2017, Apple is now the holder of a patent for an anti-shock and floatation device that is designed to protect smartphones and other portable electronics such as tablets and laptops. US Patent 9,612,622 lays out a unique and innovative method for protecting one’s smartphone or other portable device using a number of resilient “shock absorbers” that are integrated into the housing of the smartphone or other portable electronic device. Fig. 1, shown below (taken from US Patent 9,612,622) is an illustration of what a typical Apple smartphone may look like.

It is a safe bet that most people are familiar with an Apple smartphone, such as that shown in Fig. 1. Apple reportedly sold more than 1 billion iPhones since its original launch in 2007. The thin profile of these smartphones may be visually and functionally appealing to many, but risks being damaged if dropped to the ground or hard surface. As a result, most smartphone holders, as a matter of due course, regularly purchase and invest in a number of protective phone covers of various shapes and sizes.

Fig. 2 and Fig. 3, also taken from US Patent 9,612,622, help to provide a glimpse of what a future Apple smartphone may have to offer its loyal customers. In this side-by-side comparison, the viewer is able to quickly see how the structure and appearance of the phone changes with the inclusion of these clever shock absorbers when retracted or when in action.

As shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 of US Patent 9,612,622, shock absorbers are located along each of the four corners of the smartphone. When the smartphone is not in a state of free fall towards the ground or a body of water, the shock absorbers are normally in a retracted state. However, if the smartphone were to be accidentally, or otherwise, dropped onto the ground, these shock absorbers are able to automatically deploy, thus providing a bumper cushion on each corner of the smartphone.

US Patent 9,612,622 describes the method behind the technology used to achieve such a desirable result. In the event that the smartphone is dropped, a built-in sensor or accelerometer in the smartphone is able to sense the distance from the ground and the acceleration of the smartphone as it falls towards the ground (using one or more calculations involving gravity). One or more embedded controllers within the smartphone is used to perform these calculations in a matter of seconds to determine that the acceleration of the falling smartphone exceeds a threshold level, at which time, the built-in shock absorbers located on the four corners of the smartphone are deployed. The smartphone is thus able to protect itself, particular at its edges and corners, when it is dropped from any height to the ground. Fig. 4 of US Patent 9,612,622 provides an added visualization of how the shock absorbers deploy from each corner, and the bumper cushions used to help absorb any impact to the phone.

As if this latest development isn’t exciting enough, smartphones may one day have their very own built-in floaties! US Patent 9,612,622 also describes how the bumper cushions located on the shock absorbers may be made of buoyant material and used to prevent a smartphone from sinking into a body of water or other liquid. Thus, when dropped or otherwise propelled into a body of water at a threshold speed, the shock absorbers located on the smartphone may be deployed, which should cause the smartphone to float on the surface of the body of water (assuming the water or other liquid is relatively still.)

The ability for a smartphone to float on a surface of water or other liquid would hopefully give the owner more time to react and to quickly pull their smartphone out. One presumable advantage is that smartphone owners should be able to avoid losing all the data on their phone completely by having this additional time to minimize any water damage done to the phone. Also, the fact that the smartphones can float using the bumper cushions should also prevent the owner from losing their phone entirely if, for example, the smartphone were to fall into larger body of water, such as an ocean, lake, or river, where the smartphone would normally sink to the bottom and out of sight.

Apple filed this patent application on May 13, 2014. It will be added to the many patents Apple currently holds. It very well may also become an additional tool and feature used to distinguish any future smartphones released by Apple. Protecting their innovations through a number of national and international patents has shown itself to be a wise, lucrative, and valuable component of Apple’s commercial success.

Hopefully now when one’s smartphone begins plummeting to the ground, instead of the normal sinking feeling one gets in the pit of one’s stomach, smartphone owners will instead be able watch their now even cooler smartphone spring into life like a digital super hero and save itself from an otherwise damaging fall.

Author: Houda El-Jarrah, Patent Attorney

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