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iPhone 5 Design Through The Eyes of an Industrial Designer

With most of the iPhone 5 parts having been leaked, industrial designer Don Lehman has taken the upcoming handset images under its microscope and analyzed them in great detail, highlighting where Apple is knocking the door with its new unibody design, making the device stronger, thinner and lighter than its predecessors.

iPhone 5 back panel
As the iPhone 5 connects to wireless carrier’s network, putting the antenna in the right place becomes a key part. Lehman reminds us of the iPhone 4 “Antennagate” controversy, as well as the differences between the GSM and CMDA model: they both feature a different antenna design. Apple decided to redesign the antenna system after the Antennagate issue went mainstream: it pushed the antennas to the top and bottom portions of the stainless steel band wrapped around the device.

The leaked design has three pieces of metal instead of four. It still has two U-shaped pieces at the top and bottom, but this time the two flat sides become one single piece of metal that also comprises the back of the device. That single piece of metal is the unibody backplate.

The industrial designer believed the principle of the iPhone 5 antenna design would be the same, but Apple has moved toward a unibody design: both long-side pieces and the central piece are manufactured from one single piece of material. The leaked back panel photos are good evidence of Apple’s manufacturing process, which is based on exactly the same unibody designs we saw on the Macbook Pro and Air laptops, in order to make them thinner, lighter and stronger. However, this also adds an additional difficulty level when it comes to repair. The leaked rear case shows that the bosses are also machined from that single piece of material, increasing their strength, while reducing weight and thickness.

The only roadblock preventing Apple from making the entire back panel from a single piece of metal is signal transmission: it needs to use more transparent materials in places where the antennas are located. The iPhone needs to connect to cellular, Wi-Fi, GPS, (NFC?), and Bluetooth signals, so Apple placed these hardware functions on the top and bottom of the device, where they are less shielded from both the user’s hand and other components. This is why Apple had to adopt a new, high-quality thin metal shell on the back of the iPhone 5, and the result is its two-color back, where black is glass (or plastic?—we wonder if Apple uses plastic), and the rest is aluminum. [Via MacRumors, Image Credit MacRumors]

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