Apple Invents Foldable iPhone Display

Source: USPTO.govA recently published patent uncovered by Patently Apple provides more evidence that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be working on a new iPhone with a flexible display. In a patent titled “Flexible Display Devices,” Apple described a hinged electronic device with a flexible display that can be bent and held at various angles.

As stated in the patent abstract, “Flexible displays may be mounted to the housing portions overlapping the hinges. When the housing portions in a device are rotated relative to each other, the flexible display may bend. The hinge may be configured to allow the flexible display to be placed in a front-to-front configuration in which an active side of the display faces itself or a back-to-back configuration.”

As seen in the patent illustration above, the device can also be set in a triangular configuration. The triangular configuration could allow two users to play a mobile game together or allow two separate applications to run on each side of the display.

In order to allow the flexible screen to accommodate the bending motion of the device, Apple proposed that some of the display screen would be stored inside the housing wrapped around a roller. A spring mechanism or other “tensioning member” would retract a portion of the screen according to the device’s configuration.

As noted by Apple, the hinged electronic device (read: iPhone) could have its flexible screen held in different positions by various types of hinges, including “hinges based on a three-bar linkage, hinges based on a four-bar linkage, hinges with slotted members, hinges formed from flexible support structures, and hinges based on flexible housing structures.” In one embodiment, Apple also described hinges with “rotational detents” that will help hold the flexible display in the desired position.

In the patent background information, Apple noted that there are various types of flexible display technologies, including electronic ink displays and OLED (organic light-emitting diode). Although CEO Tim Cook has publicly criticized OLED displays in the past for their tendency to lose color accuracy more quickly than other types of displays, it should be noted that another recently published Apple patent described a new type of thermal sensor technology that could dynamically compensate for OLED displays’ color degradation. OLED displays are often used for flexible displays, since they can be fabricated on a thin, plastic substrate.

Although Apple’s patent illustrations appeared to focus on the iPhone, Apple noted that this technology could also be applied to “a laptop computer, a tablet computer, a somewhat smaller device such as a wrist-watch device, pendant device, headphone device, earpiece device, or other wearable or miniature device, a cellular telephone, a media player, larger devices such as desktop computers, computers integrated into computer monitors, televisions, set-top boxes or other electronic devices.”

Although it is unknown if Apple has any near-term plans to use this particular flexible display technology, a rumor has recently been circulating that Apple’s next iPhone models will feature a curved display with enhanced sensors that can detect the pressure of a user’s touch. Here’s how Apple traded on Friday.


Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet: