Apple Patent advances their Foldable/Scrollable iDevice Agenda with heavy emphasis on the All-Important Hinge
Last month Patently Apple posted a report titled "A new Rumor Claims that Apple is working with Several Supply Chain Partners in Preparing for Future Foldable Devices." Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published another detailed patent application from Apple relating to possible future folding and scrolling form factor iPhones with heavy emphasis on the device's hinge system.
Apple's invention covers an electronic device such an iPhone or iPad having a foldable display supported by a foldable electronic device housing.
First and second portions of the electronic device housing may be joined using hinge structures. The electronic device may have a flexible display such as an organic light-emitting diode display. The flexible display may overlap the first housing portion, the hinge structures, and the second housing portion. A flexible supporting layer such as a layer of sheet metal may be used in supporting the display and may overlap the hinge structures.
The hinge structures may include members that are configured to move relative to each other as the hinge structures are bent. In some configurations, hinge structures for the device include gear teeth, belts, and/or other movement synchronization structures.
The moving members in the hinge structures may include bars and links with opposing curved bearing surfaces. Stop surfaces may prevent excessive rotation of the bars and links with respect to each other.
The bars and links or other moving members in the hinge structures may rotate relative to each other about virtual pivot points that lie outside of the hinge structures.
The pivot points may establish a reduced stress plane (e.g., a neutral stress plane or approximation of a neutral stress plane). The reduced stress plane may lie within the flexible display. This may help reduce stress on the pixels or other brittle layers of the display module as the display is bent.
In some configurations, the hinge structures may include a sliding hinge pin support plate. A hinge pin that passes through the second portion of the housing may be supported by the sliding hinge pin support plate. The hinge pin allows the second portion of the housing to rotate relative to the plate and first housing portion.
When the first and second housing portions are folded together, the support plate may slide relative to the first housing portion, thereby moving the hinge pin relative to the first housing portion. This helps to ensure that links in the hinge structures are smoothly wrapped around a curved surface on the second housing surface as the device is folded. A bent portion of the display may rest on an outwardly facing surface of the hinge structures when the display is folded.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is perspective view of an iDevice illustrating a folding point in the middle; FIG. 4 is side view of an iDevice with a foldable display; FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative electronic device with a folding display; and FIG. 22 is a perspective view of an iDevice in a configuration in which the hinge has been bent at a right angle.
Apple further notes that the housing may be formed from materials such as polymer, glass, metal, crystalline materials such as sapphire, ceramic, fabric, foam, wood, other materials, and/or combinations of these materials.
Apple's patent FIG. 23 below is a perspective view of an iDevice in a configuration in which the hinge has been bent by 180.degree; FIG. 36 is a perspective view of a portion of the illustrative foldable electronic device of FIG. 35 showing how the hinge structures of the device may include the movable hinge plate and a set of hinge links; and FIG. 37 is a perspective view an iDevice in a folded configuration.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 is an alternative folding display form factor in the form of a scrollable display. The figure illustrates a side view of an iDevice with a sliding display. Patently Apple reported on this form factor last month coming to market in 2021 by Apple's Chinese competitor Oppo; FIG. 6 is a side view of an illustrative electronic device with a scrolling display.
Review Apple's patent application number 20200383219 for more details. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.