For all the popularity that Apple products have gained over the years, one piece of equipment has left even sanctimonious fans complaining: the company's standard in-ear headphones that are packaged with iPods, iPhones and more.
But Apple fans may get a better set of earphones with future purchases. Apple Insider reports, the company has filed an application to patent earphones constructed from components bonded together by a process called "ultrasonic welding," which would create products with "a seamless unibody structure."
According to the patent application, the aesthetically-improved buds would be achieved by combining the separate pieces together using a series of "weld rings" than can then be sanded down and polished to create a body structure that appears as though it's one piece.
The application provided illustrations of what the buds may potentially look like:
In the diagram, the dashed lines represent the seams between two separate components, labeled as 202 and 204; these seams would be covered up by the polished weld rings.
The weld ring patent doesn't mention any improvements to acoustic quality, but Apple has also begun exploring options for improving sound quality as well, according to Apple Insider.
The company also filed an application this week to patent a new process for making the "cap" or "grill" of the headphone -- the part with all the tiny holes -- in a way that would eliminate "remnants" of the manufacturing process and therefore create a clearer sound and smoother appearance.
That process, called "deburring," would be achieved by coating the cap with an abrasive material and then vibrating a special tool across the surface so that the material conforms to the curves of the cap.
CNET reported that though the "ultrasonic welding" patent application was filed this week, Apple has focused since 2008 on creating structures that would be "thinner, lighter, and stronger than some traditional, multi-piece designs."
And if the rumors are true, Apple may be planning to use unibody welding procedures to create the iPhone 5, according to CNET.
Take a look at the slideshow (below) to see some of the coolest patents Apple ever applied for.
The HP TouchPad's "touch to share" feature has nothing on this futuristic Apple patent, which illustrates Apple devices emmulating natural, real-world gestures. In the illustrated example above, an iPhone is tilted over an iPad in order to share files, the way you would do if you were "pouring" the data from one device into the other. Filed: 2010 Source: Patently Apple
Back in 2006, Apple filed a patent for a laser-based binocular display unit, which could attach to glasses, helmets, or goggles. In theory, users could plug the device into their iPod and watch videos via the head-mounted apparatus instead of on the tiny iPod display. This wearable system would also let the user remain mobile while enjoying media entertainment. Filed: 2006 Source: Patently Apple
This filing makes us wonder what it would be like to have an iPhone with separate displays on its front and back. If each display operated independently, then users could control navigation (or a table of contents) on one side while reading or watching video on the other. Filed: 2010 Source: Patently Apple
Many technology companies are betting that 3D is the next big thing, and fortunately for Apple, it already has a few patents to its name. One such example is a desktop display system that projects a 3D hologram, rather than projecting a 2D image onto a flat screen. Filed: 2006 Source: Patently Apple
Using a reflector that captures light externally, future MacBook owners could enjoy using their laptops outside while harnessing the sun's natural energy to power the device. Apple's patent states that a "translucent surface may also serve to protect the rear face of the display screen from damage". Filed: 2008 Source: Patently Apple
In one iteration of the system, users wrap earphone cables around a charging tower and place a conductive metal mesh on their device in order to power-up. Filed: 2010 Source: Patently Apple
Picture this: an iPod Classic whose touch wheel can morph into a television remote keypad. Currently, input devices use a specific set of operations (such as buttons, keys, touch screens) to command a computer; but, a shape shifting configuration that can physically change interface topography could be a complete game-changer in consumer electronics. Filed: 2009 Source: Patently Apple
This patent would let Apple use liquidmetal, or "amorphous alloy" collector plates for internal component fuel cells. According to Cult of Mac, this technology "could power mobile phones for more than 30 days without recharging and notebooks for 20 hours or more." Filed: 2004 Source: Cult of Mac
3D gesturing allows users to rotate objects on the touch screen, gain different perspectives, control color and texture, and more. This technology could be a breakthrough in computer-aided design applications and games. Filed: 2010 Source: Patently Apple