Apple Wins a Flexible Display Patent with Unique Functionality
The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 57 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover Apple's invention that relates to flexible displays that may include one or more flexible layers. A display cover such as a cover glass layer may be mounted over a flexible display. The display-based speaker structures may be mounted under the flexible display. Portions of the flexible display may be used as speaker membranes for the display-based speaker structures. Apple's figure in our cover graphic is a Home Button that could disappear when not in use. When it comes to flexible displays in this invention, Apple is thinking about providing future iDevices with unique functionality rather than just standalone form factors. Apple's invention may relate to many future devices such as an iPhone iPad, wristwatch, pendant and/or other wearable or miniature devices and even the MacBook Pro.
Apple Granted a Flexible Display Patent
Apple has been granted a patent today for their invention relating to functional flexible displays. Much of what Apple is describing was first covered in our report titled "Apple Looks to Flexible Displays for Unique Functionality."
Electronic devices may be provided with flexible displays. The flexible displays may be composed of one or more flexible layers and may be mounted on top of or under a cover layer. For example, a flexible display may be mounted on top of a rigid support member or may be mounted on the underside of a rigid cover layer.
Electronic devices may also be provided with user interface components (input-output components) such as buttons, microphones, speakers, piezoelectric actuators (for receiving electrical input from a user or tactile feedback to users), or other actuators such as vibrators, pressure sensors, and other components. These components may be mounted under portions of a flexible display.
During operation of the electronic device, the flexibility of the display may allow a user to interact with the component through the display. For example, sound waves from a speaker or localized vibrations from an actuator in an electronic device may pass through the flexible display. The flexible display may also allow an internal microphone, pressure sensor, or force sensor (or other internal components) to receive external input. For example, a user may deflect a flexible display using a finger or other external object, barometric pressure may be monitored through the flexible display, or sound waves may be received through the flexible display.
Components may receive input or may supply output through a physically deformed portion of the flexible display (e.g., a deformation that occurs when a user presses on the display to compress the component). In some configurations, a portion of the flexible display may serve as a membrane that forms part of a microphone, speaker, pressure sensor, or other electronic component.
The ability of a user to compress a component such as a button switch by deforming the flexible display may allow the area of a device available for visual display to be enlarged. For example, the active area of a flexible display may overlap a component such as a button or speaker.
If desired, a flexible display may be deformed by an internal component to provide audio or tactile feedback to a user. For example, structures inside an electronic device may be pressed against portions of a flexible display to temporarily create an outline for a virtual on-screen button or to temporarily create a grid of ridges that serve to delineate the locations of keys in a keyboard (keypad).
Apple's patent FIG. 6 noted below is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of an iDevice in the vicinity of audio component (#19). The audio component may be recessed in a chassis (#50) behind the flexible display (#14). The audio component may be a speaker for providing sound to a user of an iDevice or a microphone for receiving input from a user or the external environment. The presence of the flexible display over the audio component may also reduce the risk of moisture or dirt entering into the interior of an iDevice.
Apple credits Fletcher Rothkopf, Scott Myers and Stephen Lynch as the inventors of granted patent 8,816,977 which was originally filed in Q2 2011 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office. To review today's granted patent claims and details, see Apple's patent.
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