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iPhones with airbags? Could be, patent hints

Future iPhones or other iGadgets could one day ship with protective measures, including an airbag-like shock absorber that puffs up when your device goes flying.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read
Apple's airbag-esq idea.
Apple's airbag-esq idea. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Will future iPhones hold up better to big drops? They might if they sport special shock absorbers like the one featured in a newly published Apple patent application.

An early 2010 filing picked up by Patently Apple this morning details a shock mount system that sits between the display and the body of the phone. That protective layer can then be inflated to help brace the device in the event it senses a drop, much like the technology in notebook hard drives that locks up the read/write heads, keeping damage at bay.

As Apple notes in the patent, the problem's worth addressing given that thinner gadgets and glass add up to the potential for more damage.

"In general, the thicker the glass, the stronger it is," the patent reads. "Unfortunately, however, with low-profile handheld devices, the glass cover is often relatively thin, and tends to be susceptible to damage when the small form factor device is stressed, as for example, when dropped onto the floor."

The proposed solution involves the use of special pads seated underneath the glass and designed to absorb the shock and keep more important device components protected. The design also allows for used shock mounts to be swapped out, leaving the undamaged components untouched during any repairs.

The idea bears similarity to an Amazon patent filing in August that detailed an airbag system for mobile devices that blows up just like airbags in a car. That system also included a vision for creating a reorientation system that would be able to adjust a gadget's position upon dropping, so as to keep sensitive bits from hitting the ground first.