Rumors of “bendable” phones and tech gadgets with flexible displays have been around on the web for years. Companies like Samsung, LG, and Apple have been researching methods to make such a dsplay possible for almost as long. While both companies hold patents describing such technology, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a new Apple patent application this morning that could possibly pave the way to making such a display a reality for future iPhones.
The patent, which is titled “Electronic Devices with Soft Input-Output Components” describes a method of creating a “stretchable display” by affixing OLED or LCD panels onto a “stretchable mesh substrate” layer. By mounting components such as LEDs, micro-LEDs, or OLEDs, as well as a number of sensors including “touch sensors, force sensors, temperature sensors, accelerometers”, and haptic feedback sensors onto a polymer substrate layer that is cut into a grid shape (as opposed to the traditional solid rectangular shape), Apple could create a display that could bend and flex in “one or more dimensions.” The aforementioned “mesh-shaped stretchable substrate layer” would theoretically have “an array of openings,” and “serpentine signal paths that run between the openings.”
The applications for such a display are seemingly endless. Not only would flexible phones be more convenient (a touch-screen, full-display flip phone sounds pretty enticing), but the ability to flex in all directions would surely make them more durable and drop-proof, as well. Aside from smartphones, tablets, and computers, the idea of a flexible display and input-output components could easily extend to the Apple Watch or other wearables, as well as a number of other applications described in the patent – “equipment that is integrated into furniture, equipment that is integrated into a vehicle, equipment that is built into windows or architectural elements in a building, a kiosk, seating, clothing, a strap for a bag or watch, a lanyard or other structure for supporting a pendant device, a cover or other enclosure for a portable device…”
Like many of Apple’s other patents, it’s unclear when, if ever, such technology would be put into use. It does appear, however, if Apple and several other tech companies are working hard to bring truly flexible displays and input-output mechanisms into reality. Although it’s unlikely that we would see such technology implemented into this year’s iPhone 8, we may see a flexible iPhone in two or three years down the road.
If you’re interested in learning more about Apple’s latest patent, you can access the actual patent here.