Liquidmetal in an Apple product? Don't hold your breath

A co-inventor of Liquidmetal, which Apple has licensed exclusively since 2010 but barely used, says Cupertino is still waiting for the right gadget. As if he knows more than anyone else does.

Liquidmetal Technologies

One of the researchers behind Liquidmetal, a super-special "metallic glass" long expected to play a starring role in some upcoming iPhone, says Apple will likely wait to use it in a "breakthrough product made only possible by Liquidmetal technology."

OK, check your pulse. Heart rate steady? Sure you're still breathing? Excellent. Let's continue.

The fellow bringing us this breaking news, Atakan Peker, is a co-inventor of the Liquidmetal alloy. He spoke to Steve Kovach of Business Insider, who wrote that he buttonholed Peker to get answers to his Liquidmetal questions "straight from the source."

From the look of things, Peker appears to be an accomplished researcher. But Kovach neglected to mention a few things -- and played down others -- that cast the good scientist's opinion in a somewhat different light. Consider:

  • Peker does not currently work at Liquidmetal.
  • Peker, in fact, hasn't worked at Liquidmetal since 2007. He's been an academic at Washington State University for the past five years.
  • Peker didn't learn that Apple had used Liquidmetal in an iPhone (for the SIM card ejector pin) until he bought his iPhone 3G.
  • The iPhone 3G was released in 2008, the year after Peker left Liquidmetal.
  • Apple didn't license Liquidmetal until 2010, three years after Peker left the company.
  • Peker told Kovach the iPhone 3G story in their interview.

It's unquestionably nice to know that Peker thinks highly of his invention and that he believes there's a good reason Apple licensed it exclusively in 2010 but has never used it (outside that high-tech ejector pin, that is). And some of his conjectures on how Apple might use Liquidmetal are certainly interesting, even if disappointingly small-bore.

But it seems, at best, a bit of a stretch to consider Peker "the source" for anything having to do with commercialization of Liquidmetal.

That said, Peker offered a few intriguing observations. He suggests that Liquidmetal will mostly likely turn up in a MacBook first as a hinge or a bracket -- not the sleek, high-tech casing that gadget lovers supposedly covet. Such a casing, he said, would likely take "two to four years more to implement."

How he knows this is unclear, although he told Kovach that he worked on "commercial manufacturing, scale-up process, and application development" of Liquidmetal. (Again, at least five years ago.)

Similarly, Peker believes that Apple still needs to invest another $300 million to $500 million over the space of 3 to 5 years in order to "mature the [Liquidmetal] technology before it can be used on a large scale." Again, he offers no real support for this projection, though it's probably a safe bet that Tim Cook hasn't given him the Infinite Loop Grand Tour recently.

That's all interesting enough for what it's worth. Kovach, however, seems to have a major affinity for silver linings. Having glossed over Peker's, um, distance from the commercialization efforts he's talking about, Kovach figures the following four points are the ones "you need to know" from his interview:

  1. "Liquidmetal looks great, yet is incredibly strong and durable."
  2. Apple has exclusive rights to Liquidmetal (news, by the way, that is two years old)
  3. A Liquidmetal MacBook "could be a few more years" away
  4. Apple will wait to use Liquidmetal in the aforementioned "breakthrough product"

Hey, Liquidmetal can use all the glowing press it can get. Its shares closed today at 45-and-a-half cents, down 25 percent. The company's market capitalization stands at $73 million, or about what Apple pulls in from 16 hours of iPhone sales.

Just one more thing
Of course, there's still one other big question here. Even if he was still a company insider, Peker's prediction about how Apple will use Liquidmetal is somewhat less enlightening than it seems at first glance. For which of Apple's most recent major products has the company not proclaimed a "breakthrough"?

This is, after all, a company whose "new iPad" earlier this year essentially amounted to an "old iPad" with a nicer screen and 4G connectivity, but which Apple officials nevertheless heralded as the second coming of mobile technology. Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller actually said the new iPad delivers the "most amazing experience people have ever had with technology," presumably with a straight face. (Marketing types are trained to pull that off.)

What future "breakthrough" product featuring Liquidmetal could possibly hope to compete with that?

About the author

David Hamilton is the assistant managing editor of CNET News. He has been writing and editing business and tech coverage for about two decades -- the majority of that at the Wall Street Journal in both Tokyo and San Francisco. He is a two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club award and has written for numerous magazines and blogs, including Slate, Science, VentureBeat, CBS Interactive's BNET, California Lawyer and the New Republic.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments