Apple has applied for a patent (via AppleInsider) that would introduce mechanical shutters to mobile devices that would slide shut when they detect a potential fall or impact, protecting sensitive weak points like speakers and microphones. These areas are currently kept safe using wire mesh and extremely small openings, but a shutter system would make it possible to build devices with bigger and larger audio ports that could enhance the quality of sound both coming out of and going into the device.
The system describes using sensors that can detect higher pressure levels to activate the shutter, too, using differences in incoming sound levels to figure out external air pressure levels and respond accordingly. It could also detect acceleration from onboard motion sensors. This could then help the shutters slide overtop of the speaker and microphone components when you drop your phone, for instance, or when you’re using it in an environment where the external environmental pressure might damage sensitive audio components, say in shallow water.
As most phone makers move to make their devices more resistant to their external environment, with dust and water tight enclosures, you can see how Apple focusing on protecting especially sensitive elements in a potential future iPhone might have considerable benefits. There’s no word yet on what kind of environment protections will be included in the iPhone 6, if any, but it’s an interesting route for Apple to explore that would make sense given the current smartphone market climate.