Via Trung Phan’s SatPost newsletter, Brian Potter’s article “The Story of Titanium” is a great read about how Titanium metal’s use as a lighter alternative to steel is a relatively recent, and still quite expensive thing:
Titanium is also a story about the importance of serendipity in scientific discovery and technology advancement. Titanium’s biocompatibility, and its usefulness for medical implants, was discovered purely by chance. Studying biocompatibility led to another chance discovery, that of bone conduction of sound. Both of these discoveries led to the development of important medical technology, implants and hearing aids.
Finally, titanium is also a story about the critical role that manufacturing plays in technology development. The knowledge required to turn titanium into a practical technology came from the research lab, but it also came from the factory floor. Using titanium meant understanding its chemical properties, but it also meant figuring out how to forge it, weld it, press it, turn it into fasteners, design parts effectively with it, designing tools to machine it, and a million other shop floor discoveries that came from actually building things with the metal.
I’ve used an iPhone X since 2017, but 2023 is finally the year for an upgrade. (6 years is a good run for a phone.) The X is no longer compatible with the latest version of iOS, and although Apple still does provide some security updates for older phones, I’d prefer to be inside the standard support window.
Also, the battery is turning into a spicy pillow. It’s visibly bowed. (This is not the original battery. I got the battery replaced at our local phone repair shop, which kept it going for a few more years.) A couple of weeks ago I had to replace the battery in my Magic Trackpad 2 as well. (It’s a gooey mess inside that thing.) Abi describes my devices as being “pregnant. Pregnant with fire.”
The iPhone 15 Pro boasts of using a titanium frame, but the amount of titanium in the phone is actually relatively small (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_W73ouKtjU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNLEXAwpCsE). It’s a very strong material, lighter than steel, but potentially also more brittle, and as the article above describes it also has different properties when it comes to corrosion. Nevertheless, it’s pretty cool to have a frame that won’t melt until 1668°C. (The rest of the phone woud be slag by that point.)
The other thing about titanium that for some reason sticks in my mind is that there’s a massive factory just outside the port of Calais that makes the white pigment titanium dioxide. The company is called Tioxide. I remember seeing the brightly lit name of the factory when I was a kid, and we would take the channel crossing back from England to France, at the start of the long drive back up to the Netherlands. Just as the Little Chef diner just outside Dover is a marker in my mind for “we’re in Britain now”, so is Tioxide a sign for me that “I’m back on the continent.”