Budget iPhone patent?

Budget iPhone patent (drawing 002)

Well, lookie what we have here… The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) yesterday published an Apple patent which at first blush appears to outline a device seemingly resembling what the rumored elusive budget iPhone is supposed to be.

An aspect that particularly piqued our interest: unlike Apple’s iOS devices, this one has no home button on its face. There’s also a rear-facing camera – interestingly, it has no cam out the front for making video calls – and the entire thing is encased in a “clear plastic body”..

The USPTO patent No. 8,364,032 outlines “Light isolating protective cover for small form factor electronic device”.

On the surface, it just describes an iPhone with a plastic cover. Reading between the lines, there’s more to it than meets the eye, especially in light of all the inexpensive iPhone talk we’re hearing lately.

A portable device has a rear facing camera assembly and a front facing display assembly that includes at least a protective cover layer, a display stack that includes a plurality of display components arranged in a plurality of interconnected layers, the display stack providing an imaging service, and a flat support chassis arranged to provide support for the display stack.

Apple also describes one particular embodiment where cover layer is formed from glass and more particularly highly polished glass. “It should be appreciated, however, that other transparent materials such as clear plastic can be used”, the filing has it.

Of course, to say that a patent titled “Light isolating protective cover for small form factor electronic device” hints at the rumored budget iPhone is stretching it a bit. For all we know, this could be just that, a patent for a protective iPhone/iPod touch cover.

That didn’t stop IDG News Service (of all news organizations) to run a story titled “Apple cheaper iPhone mini patent published”, outright proclaiming it the budget iPhone without taking into account other boring but fairly possible interpretations.

Budget iPhone patent (drawing 001)
From the filing: the back of the device with a protective cover that Apple says “can wrap around and protect at least the rear portion of the portable device without adversely affecting an image capture process carried out by the rear facing camera assembly”.

Meanwhile, the PatentlyApple blog which follows these things closely didn’t take the bait. The blog covered several Apple patents issued yesterday but chose to only list this filing without as much as spending a single word to talk about it.

The site even issued an advisory:

New Apple technologies are generally revealed on Thursdays by the US Patent Office in the form of published patent applications.

Some Mac sites confuse this process by making claims and presenting bylines on Tuesday that insinuate that Apple has just revealed a new technology or process.

In 99% of cases, this is simply untrue and readers should be made aware of this fact.

Known exceptions include patents that Apple recently acquired or patent applications the company had never presented in the United States before under its own brand name, PatentlyApple explains.

It’s important to note that this patent falls under that one percent category: Apple filed an application on February 21, 2012 and was actually awarded the patent Tuesday, January 29, 2013. So, Apple now owns this patent. The filing lists Apple engineers Chong Yip Chow, Hongqin Zhang, Shizhe Shen and Michael DiVincent as principal inventors.


Budget iPhone patent (teaser)

Now, even though Apple’s executives are obviously trying (too hard) to dismiss the less-pricey iPhone meme, the company’s blanket denials come with modifiers that leave plenty of room for speculation.

For instance, marketing boss Phil Schiller said Apple “will not push a cheaper smartphone for the sake of market share”, but the comment was updated soon after, dropping the “cheaper smartphone” part to state Apple “will not blindly pursue market share”.

Budget phones vs iPhone
Illustration via The Wall Street Journal.

Such an ambiguous denial is fueling rumors that Apple may in fact be pursuing an all-new iPhone made from cheaper materials to appeal to price-sensitive shoppers in emerging markets like China and Brazil, where phones are sold off-contract and unsubsidized.

In addition, Apple’s rallying against plastic speaks volume for it would never bother shooting down the rumor unless the project was in fact being worked on.

Fair enough?