Apple recently received the patent for a scratch-proof coating for stainless steel devices, that could lead to new iDevices that are more durable. This technology involves a nitride layer, that is a cost effective way of protecting cases. The nitride layer is added on top of a stainless steel exterior, in order to protect it from damage.
This won’t change the look and feel of stainless steel, since the color of the metal can be seen through the nitride layer. This invention also mentions that stainless steel is a great material for electronic devices, since it’s not magnetic and it doesn’t affect wireless signals.
The same patent mentions how to apply the nitride coating to a device: either though a salt bath nitride process, or a nitrogen salt bath with a temperature of 580 degrees Celsius. Apple filed for this invention in April 2010 and the info about it reached the web in October 2010 via AppleInsider.