Apple wins a Patent for Future Foldable devices like an iPhone, iPad or MacBook that uses next-gen Fabric Hinges
On March 10th Patently Apple posted a granted patent report titled "Apple Invents Foldable iPad and iPhone that could enter a 'Joint Operating Mode' Similar to Microsoft's Surface Neo." Apple's R&D teams have been working on a possible future dual display and/or foldable display based iPhone or iPad as noted in our flexible - Foldables archive.
Today Apple was granted a patent by The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for yet another new idea of using fabric hinges that could apply to designs for a possible dual display iPhone and/or iPad Pro, a MacBook or MacBook-like device along with future accessories including folio types.
Apple notes that hinges such as hinges for laptop computers have interlocking metal parts. These parts can be bulky and unattractive. Covers for devices such as tablet computers may have structures formed from flexible layers of material. A flexible layer of material such as a plastic sheet may be sufficiently flexible to allow a cover or other item to bend over a desired range of angles, but provides limited control and stability.
Apple's invention relates to items relating to mobile devices that may or may not have dual displays. The invention could apply to a future iPhone (cellular phone), an iPad (tablet), a MacBook (laptop computer) an accessory and more that can use fabric hinges.
The item may have first and second structures that are configured to rotate relative to each other. The first and second structures may form portions of a cover, may form housing portions for a portable electronic device, may include electrical components such as one or more displays, keyboards, touch sensors, and/or other electrical components, and/or may form other structures in the item.
The fabric hinge may have first and second fabric layers that are coupled to the first structure and third and fourth fabric layers that are coupled to the second structure. A center portion of the fabric may have one side that is coupled to the first and second fabric layers and an opposing second side that is coupled to the third and fourth fabric layers.
In the center portion, first strands of material may extend outwardly into the first and fourth fabric layers and seconds strands that are interspersed amongst the first strands may extend outwardly into the second and third fabric layers.
The first and second structures may have bearing surfaces that bear against each other as the first and second structures are rotated relative to each other. Rotational orientation detents and other structures may be formed from the first and second structures. In some configurations, electrical paths may be formed through the hinge structures to pass signals between electrical components in the first structure and electrical components in the second structure.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative item such as an iPhone or iPad with a fabric hinge. Housing portions #12L and #12R may have surfaces #14 that bear against each other during rotation. These mating surfaces #14, which may sometimes be referred to as bearing surfaces or hinge surfaces, may have curved profiles or other suitable profiles that allow the housing of device 10 to fold on itself in a front-to-front and/or rear-to-rear configuration (if desired). A single hinge axis #16 is shown in FIG. 1, but item #10 may, if desired, have two, three, or more than three hinge axes and associated fabric hinges.
Apple's patent FIG. 8 above is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative electronic device such as a laptop computer with a fabric hinge; and FIG. 17 is a perspective view of an illustrative multi-link hinge formed using fabric hinge structures and housing links.
Apple's granted patent 10,683,591 was originally filed in Q1 2019 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.