The patent application, filed in August and published today, summarizes the invention thus: "The portable computing device includes an enclosure that surrounds and protects the internal operational components of the portable computing device. The enclosure includes a structural wall formed from a ceramic material that permits wireless communications therethrough. The wireless communications may for example correspond to RF communications, and further the ceramic material may be radio-transparent thereby allowing RF communications therethrough."
With the introduction of Microsoft's wireless-capable Zune media player, analysts have anticipated Apple would add similar capabilities to its iPod. At the very least, this filing demonstrates that Apple's engineers are working on it.
In some ways, this filing is more about materials science than electronics. The patent application is focused on the company's innovative use of ceramics as a housing for electronic components.
"It should be noted that ceramics have been used in a wide variety of products including electronic devices such as watches, phones, and medical instruments," the filing states. "In all of these cases, however, the ceramic material (sic) have not been used as structural components. In most of these cases they have been used as cosmetic accoutrements. It is believed up till now ceramic materials have never been used as a structural element including structural frames, walls or main body of a consumer electronic device, and more particularly an enclosure of a portable electronic device such as a media player or cell phone."
What this likely means is that the next generation iPod, and probably the Apple phone, will be much more resistant to damage if dropped, in addition to being cheaper to manufacture.
"[T]here is a need for improved enclosures for portable computing devices," the filing explains. "Particularly, enclosures that are more cost effective, smaller, lighter, stronger, and aesthetically more pleasing than current enclosure designs."
You heard it here first: expensive, large, heavy, fragile, ugly devices are out.