Aerospace Grade Titanium

Let’s talk about titanium. Specifically, let’s talk about Apple’s use of titanium in the new iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. If you go to the product page , you’d think this was the most important feature of the new phones as it’s prominent at the top and center of the page. It’s the first thing you see.

You have to dig into the page to learn that the titanium is only on the outer band of the phone, bonded to an aluminum frame.

The titanium is bonded using a thermomechanical process they refer to as solid-state diffusion. This is a fancy buzzwordy way of saying diffusion welding, which is a high pressure and temperature process for bonding two metals together.

Apple also apparently uses a process to produce color on the titanium that sounded like it’s not the tried and true anodizing that’s so cheap and easy with titanium. I know it was mentioned in the initial announcement but I can’t find anyone really talking about it so I can’t remember what it’s called.

The titnaium is noted to be aerospace-grade titanium. I cant’ find Apple directly referring to it as such, but it appears some technical materials went out to media referring to its specific alloy, referred to as Grade 5 Titanium.

JerryRigEverything on Youtube did a durability test on the iPhone 15 Pro Max .

The titanium band scratched easily. Whatever coating Apple is using might be bonded well to the metal, but it was easily damaged. This was not with his scratching picks, which he uses to determine the hardness of the display glass. This was with a disposable reazor blade from one of his knvies that he sells.

Whoops. Expensive process damaged so easily.

Zack also wanted to see a cross section of where the titanium ends and the aluminum begins. He made lots of references to how expensive the titanium would be if the alloy mentioned is what’s used. He determined the layer of titanium is about 1mm thick. He used an angle grinder to cut it…but for fun.

Titanium is, certainly, strong. But it’s a low density metal and can be easily dented, cut, etc. A sheet of titanium could easily be cut with metal sheers. Titanium can withstand many forces better than steel, and be far lighter. But it’s not indestructible and has its own weaknesses.

Let’s be real: The use of titanium and the processes around it are cosmetic. It’s unnecessary. If you put an iPhone 15 in one hand and an iPhone 15 Pro in the other, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between them. Turn them on and, yeah, one has a better screen, but most people wouldn’t know the difference. In every day use, the performance difference wouldn’t matter that much, and most people wouldn’t know the difference. It’s not making the phone lighter nor protecting it any better than aluminum. The internal frame is, still, aluminum.

So Apple has to make it stand out. That’s why the iPhone 15 comes in pastels and the iPhone 15 Pro comes in more “professional” colors. And then by pushing so hard on the marketing (remember, when you go to the product page, the first thing pushed at you is the titanium), people will know those ware the ones made of titanium (remember, the frame is actually aluminum, the titanium is only 1mm thick on the outer band).

By using fancy marketing words to describe everything, it sounds more expensive. The welding process isn’t something Apple invented. The hard colored coating is not something Apple invented. The titanium alloy isn’t new, either.But they’re all more costly and used to inflate the price.

Outside of the frame materials, the cost to manufacture an iPhone 15 versus the iPhone 15 Pro is probably not actually as much as they make it out to be. And we will see next year, when the iPhone 16 has the A17 SoC, USB3, etc, for the iPhone 15 price, that it was possible all along.

And really, it doesn’t end at the titanium. The back glass is noted to be specially formed as a single piece and colored with some special process as well. And is noted to be the strongest back glass ever. Going back to the JerryRigEverything video, Zack actually breaks the back glass on the iPhone 15 Pro Max quite easily. By putting so much emphasis about how special this glass is, this means Apple will be charging a pretty hefty premium to replace it. It’s another thing to inflate the price.

Specially formed back glass isn’t new, and it’s clear their materials people who believed this to be the strongest ever need to revisit this assertion and maybe consider going back to a previous formula. there’s definitely been Android phones with single piece back glass forming around the cameras in the past.