Apple has been examining various ways of protecting devices such as the iPhone when they are accidentally dropped or knocked off a counter or table.

Devices are getting increasingly complex, and damaged parts such as screens are proving more and more expensive to repair or replace.

It has now emerged that Apple applied to the US Patent & Trademark Office offering several potential solutions to protect hardware such as smartphones, cameras, laptops and tablets.

The key to protecting a device like an iPhone is to use a sensor or gyroscope system to detect a change in its orientation – for example when it has been dropped and is in “freefall”.

The processor, having received a warning message, would work out which part of the phone is likely to hit the ground.

It would then alter the way the phone falls, for example by ejecting the battery and shifting the centre of gravity, to make sensitive areas like the screen land the right way up and avoid damage.

As Apple puts it: “The method may include detecting a freefall of the device by a sensor. Then, determining via at least one sensor an orientation of the device.

“After the orientation of the device has been determined, estimating an impact area of the device.

“Then, selectively changing the orientation of the device via a protective mechanism, depending on the estimated impact area of the device.”

Another method would be to deploy an aerofoil system, rather than altering its weight, to shift the phone’s centre of mass and make it land a certain way.

A separate option being examined is to use a gas canister to generate thrust to force the device to land one way or another.

However, although the patent application was filed in September 2011, there is no firm indication any of the ideas will be put into practice.

Apple, along with the other major manufacturers, has been concentrating on making its devices thinner and lighter, reducing the amount of room in the chassis for any protection system.