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Greg Koenig: ‘Why Your Next iPhone Won’t Be Ceramic’

Greg Koenig on why the ceramic Apple Watch Edition does not presage a ceramic iPhone:

All of this circles us back to that little booklet that shipped with the ceramic Watch Edition. I think it is a safe bet to say that if Apple was about to leverage a whole new process for the efficient manufacturing of precision ceramics for next year’s iPhone, this new Watch model would be a test balloon for at least some of those techniques. Now, it is important to note that Apple has always skillfully knife edged their marketing discussion about manufacturing by being both hyper honest in their descriptions, while being quite vague about the nitty gritty details. So if we can all agree their materials are honest, let me be very plain - there is nothing revolutionary or new about how Apple is making the ceramic Edition watch.

The process they describe is meticulously executed, and because of the nature of the design — wherein ceramics are mimicking the engineering layout of far more easily produced materials - probably the most laboriously produced ceramic watch on the market. In fact, if we scale the numbers used in the booklet up to iPhone size devices and cycle times, Apple would need 2 football field’s worth of kiln space for each ceramic iPhone to sinter for the requisite 36 hours. For the 2 hours of hard ceramic machining to finish the case details, Apple would need to go from 20,000 CNC machines, to 250,000. They would need another 200,000 employees to perform the 2 hours of hand polishing to “bring out the strength and luster.”

Fantastic article.

As Koenig emphasizes, at peak production Apple is manufacturing one million iPhones per day. If and when Apple switches from aluminum to a new material for iPhone bodies, it’ll have to be a material with which they can achieve the same scale.

Thursday, 20 October 2016