Yesterday we posted an in-depth patent report titled "Advanced iDevice Flex Display Features" which covered a grand overview of flexible display constructions and features that Apple may implement in future iDevices. Today's patent report covers a second distinct invention regarding flexible displays that may be a little more realistic in the medium term. In this invention, Apple is focused on introducing flexible edge displays that will be able to use active virtual repurposing controls depending on the needs of individual users. Apple also illustrates simple Gaming controls that could be activated on these new displays when needed. Apple indicates that these next generation flex displays could be used in future iDevices, wearable computers (like an iWatch) and even MacBooks. We close out our report with a list of 10 other minor patent applications that were published by the US Patent and Trademark Office today.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices such as portable computers and cellular telephones are often provided with rigid displays made from rigid display structures. For example, a liquid crystal display (LCD) may be formed from a stack of rigid display structures such as a thin-film transistor glass layer with display pixels for providing visual feedback to a user, a color filter glass layer for providing the display pixels with color, a touch screen panel for gathering touch input from a user, and a cover glass layer for protecting the display and internal components.
Conventional devices may also have input-output components such as buttons, microphones, speakers, and other components that receive or transmit tactile input from a user mounted on edges of the device away from the display. Tactile input components are often formed from sliding or reciprocating button members and associated electrical components such as switches.
It would be desirable to be able to use flexible display technology to provide improved electronic devices such as electronic devices with input-output components.
Integrating Mini Flexible Edge Displays into Portable Devices
Apple's invention generally relates to electronic devices that may utilize or integrate flexible displays. The flexible displays may include one or more flexible layers and may be mounted under a transparent display cover layer such as a layer of clear glass or plastic. For example, a flexible display may be mounted on the underside of a cover layer. Flexible displays may include a touch-sensitive layer that allows a user to provide touch input to an electronic device. Display pixels on a flexible display may be used to display visual information to the user.
An electronic device incorporating a flexible display may be configured to form planar front, rear and sidewall surfaces for the device. The flexible display may have a bend that allows a second portion of the flexible display to cover some of the sidewall surfaces of the device.
Visual Feedback that Includes Repurposing Virtual Controls
Apple states that flexible displays may be used for displaying information and visual feedback to a user and for accepting input from a user. Active portions of the display configured for user input and output functions may be separated from inactive portions of the display using an opaque masking layer. The opaque masking layer may be formed on an inner surface of the cover layer.
Active portions (illuminated regions of pixels) on the sidewall edges of an electronic device may be used to create virtual user interface controls such as buttons. The buttons or other user input interface elements may be reconfigured during use of the electronic device. For example, the user input interface elements on the sidewall of an electronic device may be repurposed for supporting user input operations in different operating modes of the electronic device.
Virtual buttons on the edge of a device may be provided in place of tactile input/output components such as physical buttons and switches or may be formed as part of a dummy button structure or other mechanical feature.
Repurposing Virtual Button Configurations with a Simple Swipe of the Flexible Edge Display
Although a device may come with predetermined images displayed on the flexible display that indicate to a user which function is currently being performed by the virtual button, the buttons and functions could be later changed.
During operation of an electronic device, a virtual button may be, for example, a virtual volume button for controlling audio output volume and may be repurposed based on user input to become a virtual camera shutter button for taking a picture or may be reconfigured to serve as a controller for another device function.
Apple states that when changing operating modes of the device or when changing the function of the edge display, virtual button icons like # 80 of FIG. 9 above, may be repositioned to another portion of the edge display or to another edge display area.
In the example of FIG. 9, the virtual volume button icons may occupy a first region of the edge display and when a user changes the function of the edge display or changes the mode of operation of the, region 90 may be repurposed as an informational display or as a virtual button with a different function (e.g., a virtual camera shutter button).
As indicated by arrows 86, a user of the device may swipe the edge display (e.g., a single swipe in a single direction, multiple swipes in multiple directions, etc.) using a finger. Swiping the edge display may instantly change the function of the edge display. Optional gestures may be made available to the user beyond swiping, such as using a single tap, multiple taps, pinching, circular motions, etc.).
Apple's Specific Example for Gaming Centric iDevice Virtual Controls
Apple's patent FIG. 14 is an interesting one being that it's noted as being a perspective view of a device showing how virtual buttons that may form a portion of a gaming controller when the device 10 operated in a landscape position.
As shown in patent FIG. 14 above, sidewall surface 24 may include one or more virtual buttons. During operation of the device in a gaming mode, portions of the front display may display additional virtual buttons such as additional virtual buttons 126. Virtual buttons 52, additional virtual buttons 126 and other components of device 10 (e.g., accelerometers) may be used in combination to deliver user input to the device for gaming software applications.
Other Virtual Controls that could be Made Available
Apple states that in general, illuminated touch-sensitive regions on a sidewall surface of a device may represent virtual buttons such as caps lock, shift, control, delete, page up/down, number lock, function-specific buttons, escape, enter, multiply, add, divide, subtract, memory storage, clear, all clear, percent, square root, other calculator buttons, text messaging, calendar, calculator, media player, web browser, email client, cellular telephone, or other software applications, menu, ringer on/off, ringer on/off/vibrate, lock/unlock, call, an end-call, or any other button or other visual information display.
Apple's patent application was discovered in an April 2013 European Filing as noted below.
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A List of Patent Applications Published by the US Patent OfficeToday
The US Patent and Trademark Office only published 12 patent applications from Apple today and the ten that are listed below could only be truly appreciated by super-geeks and the curious amongst us: Happy hunting.
SELECTION OF AN APPROPRIATE ONLINE CONTENT SOURCE BASED ON PROGRAM INFORMATION - LOW POWER WIRELESS DEVICE DISCOVERY - WHITE POINT UNIFORMITY TECHNIQUES FOR DISPLAYS – POLICY-BASED SWITCHING BETWEEN GRAPHICS-PROCESSING UNITS – IMAGE METADATA CONTROL BASED ON PRIVACY RULES - CHANNEL SELECTION IN A MULTIPLE CARRIER MULTIPLE RADIO ACCESS TECHNOLOGY NETWORK - DATA DETECTION - SELECTION OF AN APPROPRIATE ONLINE CONTENT SOURCE BASED ON PROGRAM INFORMATION.
Lastly, we list a 2006 continuation patent that Apple acquired from Nortel regarding 3D RF Signatures. Patent FIG. 3 of that patent is presented below.
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