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Apple's iconic earbuds may be in line for a unibody tweak

A newly published patent application suggests Apple is at work on a makeover to its headphones to get rid of unsightly seams.

A surprisingly disgusting close-up view of some Apple earbuds.
A surprisingly disgusting close-up view of some Apple earbuds.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple dislikes seams in things. This very obsession led it to the point where it spent an estimated $6.6 million on a remodel of its Fifth Avenue store in New York to cut the number of glass panels it was using in its exterior cubic entrance from 90 down to 15.

Now another iconic Apple-made item could be in line for a seamless makeover: the company's earbuds.

In a patent application published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and picked up by Apple Insider, Apple has laid out a plan for ultrasonically welded, unibody headphones.

Before jumping to the conclusion that Apple is ditching its iconic white for aluminum, the design involves joining together multiple pieces of plastic. That's accomplished with ultrasonic welding, a technique that melts together just the contact points to create a firm bond. This is as opposed to using a liquid, or structural adhesive. By comparison, Apple suggests that the ultrasonic method would lead to a more "aesthetically pleasing" and "seamless" device.

Seamless bonds are pictured here.
Seamless bonds are pictured here. USPTO/Apple

This is not the first such mention of ultrasonic as a means of bonding materials in a patent application from Apple. One published last month by the USPTO involved bonding plastic to metal, a process that is more complex than doing plastic to plastic given the difference in melting points between the two materials. Apple's solution in that case was to add texture to the metal, allowing for the plastic to melt in, and bond with the natural grooves.

Since 2008 Apple has made efforts to make its computers and mobile devices using so-called "unibody" construction techniques, a form of manufacturing that takes a single material and cuts away room for circuitry, batteries, and other components. The end result is a structure that can be thinner, lighter, and stronger than some traditional, multi-piece designs. Earlier this week, the company was rumored to be using that technique in the production of its next iPhone, which is expected in the fall.