Apple Finally Reveals that one of their Foldable Display Patents is now Focused on being a Foldable Laptop
This week Patently Apple posted a report titled "Google has Filed for a Foldable Device Patent Describing a Flip Phone, a Dual Display Tablet and a Multi-Display Book-Like Device." We had noted in the report that this was the year we're to see Microsoft's Surface Neo come to market. It's a dual display tablet that doubles as a notebook with a slip over magnetic keyboard as is illustrated in their promotional video below.
We covered the Surface Neo patent back in October 2019 and followed-up in October 2020 with a report titled "Intel, Samsung, Microsoft are Collaborating on the new 'Horseshoe Bend Project' that covers 17" Foldable Display Notebook standards." The project is no longer just a Microsoft project with a potentially broader base that could influence the market to consider this new form factor.
On Thursday the US Patent & Trademark Office published a continuation patent from Apple wherein Apple revealed a major shift in one of their foldable display patents.
In July 2020 we posted a continuation patent for this invention and the updated patent claims simply referred to the device as being a 'Foldable Device.' Apple was granted that patent in November 2020 with their patent claims still focused narrowly as a generic 'foldable device.'
Just as a quick reminder of what the patent covered, Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a perspective view of an illustrative electronic device having a flexible display that could be used in a foldable device like an iPhone or iPad; FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display cover layer with a flexible portion; and FIG. 33 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display having a thinned region that is adjacent to support structures with eased edges.
A Major Revelation
On Thursday, Apple's latest continuation patent was published wherein only patent claims were added. Yet the revelation found in the new patent claims came as huge surprise.
Last week 20 new patents claims were added to Apple's already granted patent. 16 of the 20 claims finally revealed that the main focus of this patent is a foldable display that will act as a laptop, much like Microsoft's Surface Neo. This is a major revelation. Below are the 16 claims that list and prioritize laptop:
Claim #1: A laptop, comprising: first and second housing portions coupled by a hinge; a foldable display that overlaps the first and second housing portions and extends across the hinge; and a rigid transparent cover layer through which the foldable display presents images, wherein the rigid transparent cover layer has a groove that extends parallel to the hinge.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 wherein the rigid transparent cover layer forms an exterior surface of the foldable display.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 wherein the rigid transparent cover layer comprises glass.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 wherein the rigid transparent cover layer has opposing first and second surfaces, wherein the first surface forms an outermost surface of the foldable display, and wherein the groove is formed in the second surface.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 further comprising a transparent material in the groove.
- The laptop defined in claim 5 wherein the transparent material has an index of refraction that matches that of the rigid transparent cover layer.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 wherein the groove extends only partway through the rigid transparent cover layer.
- The laptop defined in claim 7 wherein the groove extends completely through the rigid transparent cover layer.
- The laptop defined in claim 1 wherein the groove is one of multiple grooves in the rigid transparent cover layer.
- The laptop defined in claim 9 wherein at least some of the multiple grooves follow non-straight paths.
- An electronic device, comprising: a housing operable in folded and unfolded configurations, wherein the housing comprises an upper housing portion and a lower housing portion that rotate relative to one another about a hinge; a display that spans across the upper housing portion, the hinge, and the lower housing portion; and a glass layer that spans across the upper housing portion, the hinge, and the lower housing portion, wherein the display presents images through the glass layer and wherein the glass layer has a groove that extends parallel to the hinge.
- The electronic device defined in claim 11 wherein the housing comprises a laptop housing.
- A laptop, comprising: first and second rigid housing members that rotate relative to one another about a hinge axis; a hinge coupled between the first and second rigid housing members; a foldable display that extends across the hinge and that includes a first display portion coupled to the first rigid housing member and a second display portion coupled to the second rigid housing member; and a display cover layer having a first rigid portion overlapping the first display portion, a second rigid portion overlapping the second display portion, and a flexible region with at least one groove overlapping the hinge.
- The laptop defined in claim 16 wherein the display cover layer comprises glass.
- The laptop defined in claim 16 wherein the groove follows a non-straight path.
- The laptop defined in claim 16 wherein the display cover layer forms an exterior surface of the foldable display.
- The laptop defined in claim 16 wherein the foldable display is configured to display images that overlap the hinge.
Apple's patent history dates back to July 2015. Five and a half years later Apple has finally revealed that the main focus of this invention is a continuous foldable display that could act a notebook when configured as such by the user.
So, while Microsoft, Samsung, HP, Dell and Lenovo are still likely to beat Apple to market with dual display and/or foldable tablets doubling as a notebook, we at least now know that Apple has prioritized their foldable display patent as being designed with a notebook slant to it. Whether Apple will categorize this device under iPad or MacBook is unknown at this time.
Patent claims define what the highest importance of an invention. It's what can be argued in legal cases.
So, if the patent claims are now slanting the invention towards the end product being a "laptop" – it's to be taken seriously.
To review all 20 added patent claims, check out Apple's continuation 20210066641.
Considering that this is a continuation patent, the timing of such a product to market remains unknown at this time.