Apple Patent reveals their most Elaborate Foldable Device Hinge System to date
Patently Apple has posted a few hinge system patents relating to future foldable devices from Apple (01 and 02) and today the US Patent & Trademark Office published one of their most elaborate hinge patents to date. Apple envisions their new hinge system being applied to future foldable devices such as an iPad, iPhone, laptop, desktop, and more.
Apple's invention relates to a foldable electronic device that may have a display formed from a flexible display panel that overlaps a bend axis. The device may have first and second housing portions coupled by a hinge. The device may be opened and closed by rotating first and second housing portions about the bend axis.
The hinge may have a series of interconnected links. The links may be formed from thin sheets of material that form interdigitated fingers in a friction clutch. The fingers or other portions of the links may be provided with crescent-shaped slots that receive pins. During folding of the device, the pins may slide along the crescent-shaped slots, thereby ensuring that adjacent links rotate relative to each other about a rotation axis that lies outside of the hinge and within the flexible display panel supported over the links.
If desired, links may be formed from link members with curved mating bearing surfaces that slide relative to each other as adjacent links are rotated relative to each other. A housing rotation synchronization mechanism may be formed using a set of gears that extends between the first and second housing portions.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a basic schematic diagram of an illustrative electronic device; FIG. 4 is a side view of a portion of an illustrative electronic device having a hinge with links; FIG. 10 is a side view of a portion of hinge with a rotation synchronization mechanism formed from interlocked gears.
Apple's patent FIG. 19 above is a perspective view of an illustrative hinge; FIG. 20 is a front perspective view of an illustrative bent hinge and FIG. 21 is a rear perspective view of an illustrative bent hinge
Technical Points in Apple's Patent Claims that Define the Invention
An electronic device, comprising: a foldable housing that is configured to bend about a bend axis; a flexible display panel that overlaps the bend axis; and a hinge having multiple links, wherein the links include pairs of links that rotate relative to each other about a rotation axis that lies outside of the links and wherein the links have friction clutch structures.
The electronic device will include links that have crescent-shaped slots; include friction clutch structures of the links comprises interdigitated fingers; include hinges that comprise of pins that slide within the crescent-shaped slots as the links rotate relative to each other; include links that comprise of curved surfaces that bear against each other; that includes a first link with a first curved exterior surface and a second link with a mating second curved exterior surface that bears against the first curved exterior surface as the first and second links rotate with respect to each other; that includes a retention member with a curved surface that bears against a corresponding curved surface of the first link;
The electronic device may further include a rotation synchronization mechanism coupled between the first and second housing halves that provide rotation synchronization gears; include a two-dimensional array of haptic output devices overlapped by the flexible display.
The electronic device may include a first and second housing portions that are folded against each other wherein the flexible display is bent about the bend axis and exhibits an unfolding torque to unfold the first and second housing portions.
The hinge system comprises of a counterbalance mechanism configured to provide a folding torque that tends to fold the first and second housing portions about the bend axis to counterbalance the unfolding torque; wherein the counterbalance mechanism comprises a pad, a spring coupled to the pad, and a roller that is mounted on a portion of the interconnected links and that bears against the pad.
Apple's patent application '9811 published today by USPTO was originally filed in July 2022 under application number 17/859668. 11 inventors are listed on the patent with one of them being Sik K. Hoon, a Product Design Engineer in Apple's Special Project Group.
Premium Smartphone Market Heating Up
There's no doubt that foldable smartphones will continue to grab market share over time as a premium device. It was reported earlier today that Samsung's next-gen Galaxy Z Fold 5 will introduce the first foldable that will lay completely flat instead of leaving an ugly gap between the displays when folded. This will provide their Z Fold with a slicker appearance. This will be accomplished with a newly invented hinge that is referred to as a 'waterdrop' hinge. A Korean patent figure of the design is presented below.
While Apple is likely to focus on a foldable iPad at first that could double as a notebook-like device, we can only hope that a foldable iPhone to compete with the Z-fold is on their roadmap.
Apple's CEO was confident that Apple fans would be willing to spend more on a premium iPhone which had the rumor mill talking up a new iPhone "Ultra" category. For the majority of iPhone customers sold on the Apple ecosystem, this new category could be appealing.
Yet Apple has to be careful because as Samsung brings down the price of their Z fold, the two smartphones may be priced equally and the Z Fold could sway some Apple fans away.
I was at Best Buy on the weekend checking out new devices and I checked out the Z Fold for the first time in person. I used it to check out some Patently Apple patent reports and I was amazed at the difference it made over my iPhone. I hate to say it, but it was an amazing new experience with the patent figures appearing so much larger and the text so much easier to read.
The faster Apple delivers a premium foldable iPhone to market, the better.