Future Foldable iPhone may use a micro-LED Display and Liquid Metal as a Shape Memory Alloy
On Thanksgiving 2017 the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a possible foldable iPhone model. With Samsung and others talking up foldable smartphones, we're seeing more Apple patents surfacing of late covering this theme. One surfaced a year ago covering a bendable smartphone using advanced carbon nanotube structures, which once again today is listed as one of the materials used as an anti-corrosion additive to prevent corrosion of any sensitive structures in the foldable display. Other foldable smartphone patents surfacing in 2017 include these three: one, two and three.
Today's patent pending invention covers an electronic device having a flexible portion that allows the device to be folded. The device may have a flexible display. The flexible display may have a bending region that allows the display to bend along a bend axis when the device is folded.
The flexible display may have a flexible display layer, a cover layer, a touch sensor interposed between the flexible display layer and the cover layer, a support layer, and a polarizer layer. The polarizer layer may be interposed between the touch sensor and the flexible display layer or between the touch sensor and the cover layer.
The touch sensor may include layers of optically clear adhesive that is flexible and facilitates bending of the display. The optically clear adhesive may include additives such as water vapor penetration reducing additive, anti-corrosion additive, ultraviolet-light blocking additive, and index-of-refraction adjustment additive. The support layer may be formed from shape memory alloy or amorphous metal and may have openings to facilitate bending of the display along the bend axis.
Interestingly it's the first patent by Apple that lists micro-LED as one of the main display types for a foldable iPhone.
Apple's patent also points to liquid metal being used in the structure of the foldable iPhone which is another rarity.
Shape Memory Alloy
Apple notes that "The material that forms layer 14-1 may be a shape memory alloy (e.g., nickel titanium) or a bulk metal glass (sometimes referred to as amorphous metal)." Bulk metal glass is also liquid metal.
The patent further notes that "An example of a shape memory alloy with a yield strain of greater than 1% (i.e., a yield strain of 1.1%) is a nickel titanium having 55.8 weight percent of nickel, less than 0.5 weight percent of oxygen, less than 0.2 weight percent of carbon, and a remainder formed from titanium. An example of an amorphous metal that may be used in forming support layer 14-1 is an alloy of zirconium (65 weight percent), copper (17.5 weight percent), nickel (10 weight percent), and aluminum (7.5 weight percent). Bulk metal glasses may be based on alloys of titanium, palladium, zirconium, iron, cobalt, nickel and other suitable materials.
The material that forms layer 14-1 may be a metal matrix composite having an amorphous metal and a reinforcing element, such as carbon fibers, silicon carbide fibers, or boron filaments. Layers 14-1 are illustrated in patent FIG. 4 above.
Apple's patent application #20170336831 was filed back in Q3 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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