Is Apple making a plastic Apple Watch?

Apple patent looks at plastic and ceramic weave to boost signal strength

Plastic Apple Watch
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple could soon give the Watch a price cut, as the company investigates how to make its case out of plastic.

Since it launched all the way back in 2015, the Apple Watch has featured a case made from either aluminium, stainless steel, ceramic, or even gold for the expensive and ill-fated Edition model.

But now, it looks like Apple is considering what a plastic Watch might look like. A patent filed in September 2018 and made public in March 2020 reveals how Apple is exploring ceramic fibre as an option for future watch cases.

The patent is titled ‘Ceramic Weave for Low-Cost, Structural, Antenna-Permeable Watch Case’, and there are a couple of interesting points to note here. First, the use of ceramic weave should lead to lower production cost (as this isn’t the same as the pricey ceramic cases Apple has offered in the past).

Secondly, it looks like Apple believes a plastic case would be better for the watch’s various antennas (for Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth) compared to the metal options it currently produces. Additionally, the patent suggests how an antenna could be integrated with the case moulding.

(Image credit: USPTO)

Unlike the ceramic cases already offered by Apple, ceramic fibres would likely be used to reinforce a plastic watch case, 9to5Mac, which first spotted the patent, speculates.

The patent, which you can view here, weighs up the pros and cons of using certain materials for the case of a smartwatch. It states: “Certain materials can provide a desired level of performance with respect to some properties, but not others. For example, a metal housing can be strong and tough, but can provide varying levels of electromagnetic shielding.”

On the other hand, Apple says how a “plastic housing can be electromagnetically transparent, but can have lower levels of strength, toughness, and abrasion resistance”

The solution, the patent suggests, could be a composite material. The document explains how a ceramic weave can be surrounded by a resin or epoxy, with the weave serving “to amplify or reduce interference, attenuation, or shielding of wireless signals received or transmitted by the antenna.”

It sounds like, while this could lead to a plastic Apple Watch with a lower price, another primary goal here is to design a way to improve antenna performance by not using metal, while maintaining the case’s strength.

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Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.