A recently published patent application details a number of ways for saving an iPhone in the event of a fall -- including the use of retro rockets.
In the filing entitled "Protective Mechanism for an Electronic Device," Apple proposes an intelligent system that draws on information from the phone's sensors, such as the distance to the ground and the device's current position and direction of travel as well as existing data regarding similar accidents stored on the phone in order to decide the best course of action to take.
This action could be to rotate the device so that it lands on its most crash-resistant side (not on its screen). Apple details how this could be achieved by an internal weight that could move inside the phone to tip it over or somehow rotate it -- like balancing a seesaw or set of scales.
The application also details a thruster or retro-rocket system -- think the Apollo Moon landings -- powered by internal gas canisters to change the device's position in mid-fall or even potentially reduce its speed so that the force of the eventual impact is suitably decreased as to minimize potential damage.
The documents, filed in 2011 and published on Thursday, were first highlighted by Apple Insider and also detail solutions for automatically jettisoning connecting cables and power leads that could cause a device to be pulled off a table or desk and for airfoils and other protrusions that could be deployed to reduce acceleration or change a device's position in the event of a fall.
A much simpler but less elegant solution for ensuring that an iPhone or iPad always lands on its backplate in the event of a fall would be to spread butter on it because, as the saying goes, a slice of toast that falls from the table or kitchen counter tends to land butter-side down.