Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to possible foldable iPhones and/or iPads. In one case, Apple even refers to a possible tri-fold device. With Samsung recently declaring that 50% of their premium smartphones will be foldable by 2025, it's great to see that Apple is continuing their work on possible future foldable devices.
Apple's patent application covers an electronic device that may have a display that is resistant to deformation-induced damage due to contact by a finger, stylus, or other external object. The electronic device may be a foldable electronic device having a foldable display. The foldable display may have a display cover layer and display panel that bend around a bend axis.
The display panel may have an array of pixels configured to display an image through the display cover layer. The pixels may be formed from thin-film display circuitry that is supported by a flexible substrate. The flexible substrate may be supported by a display support plate that bends about the bend axis. If desired, the flexible substrate may be supported by a display support plate that bends about multiple axes (e.g., in a tri-fold device). Arrangements in which a flexible or rigid display are supported by a rigid support plate may also be used (e.g., in a device where the display is covered with a thin and/or soft cover layer).
The display support plate may be formed from a stiff layer that resists deformation when pressure is applied to the display from an external object such as a computer stylus (Apple Pencil). This particular point is an in-your-face clue that a foldable iPad is definitely on Apple's radar.
Thermoplastic polymer bonding, polymer adhesive bonding, and/or other attachment techniques may be used in attaching the display substrate to the display support plate. In an illustrative arrangement, the excessive use of soft material between the support plate and substrate is avoided to help prevent undesired localized deformation of the thin-film display circuitry.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 below illustrates a foldable device which Apple lists as either an iPhone (cellular phone) or iPad (tablet computer) that includes a hinge #30 that supports folding.
To allow the metal layer, glass layer, and/or other rigid layer(s) that form the display support plate to bend about bend axis #28, a strip-shaped portion of the display support plate that overlaps and runs along bend axis 28 may be provided with flexibility enhancement openings such as through-hole openings and/or openings that pass partially through the plate.
This type of arrangement is shown in the top view of illustrative display support plate #58 of patent FIG. 5 above, which has openings #60 in a strip. The openings could be circular, oval, rectangular, hexagonal, slot-shaped, and/or may have other shapes. The openings could also have lateral dimensions of at least 100 microns, 150-200 microns, less than 300 microns, less than 100 microns, less than 75 microns, or other suitable size.
During operation of an iPhone or iPad (device #10), a user may press a finger, Apple Pencil, or other external object inwardly against the outermost surface of the display (#14) or may inadvertently drop an object with sharp curvature onto the display.
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Lastly, Apple notes that lateral gaps may be formed between the sides of the inwardly protruding portions of bonding layer #90' and adjacent sidewalls of the openings #60. This type of arrangement is shown in FIG. 23 above wherein circuitry #42 may be formed on substrate #40 and bonded to a plate (#58) using the thermoplastic layer.
Further, layer #90' may be formed from thermoplastic polymer that protrudes inwardly through the narrowed upper portion of each opening to form protruding portions #90P.
The Openings (#60) may be formed by laser drilling, machining, wet and/or dry etching (one-sided or two-sided), stamping, and/or other fabrication techniques.
For more details, review Apple's patent application number 20220270522. To view other patents regarding foldable and scrollable devices view our Archive.