The most common way to protect a delicate device like a smartphone is to cover it with a case made of shock-absorbing rubber and plastic, or build the phone out of those materials in the first place. Apple is pretty attached to the premium glass and metal feel, so it is proposing another solution. A patent application discovered today suggests using a mechanism to shift the center of gravity or orientation of a device if onboard sensors detect that it is falling.
The sensors are pretty standard and already exist in many handsets, but the countermeasures are very unique. Shifting weights could be hidden under the hood, but other proposals include a locking headphone jack that would prevent the phone from hitting the ground airfoils, and even a gas reserve for thrust.
Some of the ideas aren’t all that practical (especially when trying to maintain the iPhone’s thin, sleek design), but they’re definitely interesting. The concept could also be applied to larger devices like laptops and tablets, but the shatter-prone iPhone is definitely in need.