Apple patents shock absorbers for iPhone

Sooner or later it happens to every mobile phone user: the device escapes the hand, or gets knocked off a counter, and down it falls.

The Apple warranty does not apply to damage caused by user fumbling and bumbling. And even if it’s only the screen that breaks, Apple will charge $129 to $149 for the fix.

But imagine if, when you dropped your phone, bumpers popped out from each corner to cushion the impact — or even allow the phone to float when it falls into water.

Apple has been looking at just such a system, and received a patent for it on April 4.

The technology is built around sensors such as the accelerometer present in most modern smartphones, which can detect when a device is in “free fall,” according to the patent.

“The length of time in free fall may be used to calculate the height and velocity of movement and thus to make a determination whether the device has been dropped or merely set down,” the patent document said.

When the software determines that the phone has been dropped, out spring the corner bumpers.

And these cushions could not only help prevent breakage, but enable flotation.

“Devices may sometimes be exposed to elements such as water and may even be dropped into water environments such as a lake, ocean, or even a bathtub or sink within the home,” the document said.

Although Apple delicately avoided mentioning the toilet, 39 percent of smartphone owners use their devices in the bathroom, according to Google, and 19 percent of users drop their phones in the toilet, according to online services firm Plaxo.

Whatever the body of water, Apple’s technology could reduce the damage, or prevent loss, according to the patent document.

“In a situation where the portable electronic device is dropped into water, the user may face a risk not only of irreparably damaging the device due to water ingress, but also of losing the device altogether as these devices will sink,” the document noted.

“The shock absorbers may include buoyant material which permits the portable electronic device to float in the event that it is dropped or otherwise exposed to a water environment,” the document said. “By enabling the device to float, this may permit the user time to retrieve the device from the water environment and prevent damage.

“In addition, by enabling the device to float, it is prevented from sinking to the bottom of a lake, ocean or other turbid waters where retrieval may be problematic.”

The bumpers, once out, could be retracted by the user after recovery of the phone from the ground, floor or toilet.

And the corner-cushions could be made fashion forward, or, alternatively, unobtrusive.

“Bumper cushions may be colored or otherwise configured in a decorative mode such that they add to the appearance of the smartphone or blend into the edge or body of the device.”

Of course, patented technologies don’t always end up in consumer products — but when Apple releases the iPhone 8, we’ll certainly be eyeballing the corners.