Killer Patent: Apple Reveals Sapphire Flexible Transparent Display Devices Created with Liquid-Metal
This morning Patently Apple discovered a killer patent application from Apple that was published in Europe. Apple's killer invention describes flexible wraparound displays for a possible future iPhone and/or other devices. The patent describes sapphire and transparent displays used in a form factor created by an alumina powder liquid-metal process. Apple further describes some very interesting applications taking advantage of this kind of continuous wraparound display that could be ideal for a future wristband computer that we reported on earlier this year. Without a doubt, this patent application is one of the best of the year – so check it out.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices such as computers, media players, and cellular telephones typically contain displays. For example, an electronic device may have a front surface on which a display is mounted. Conventional display configurations such as these may be satisfactory in certain situations, but can be unnecessarily limiting. It would therefore be desirable to provide electronic devices with improved displays.
Apple Invents Hollow Structured Device with Wrap-Around Display
Apple's invention relates to electronic devices, and more particularly, to electronic devices with displays. An electronic device may have a hollow display cover structure. The hollow display cover structure may be formed from an elongated member having an inner surface. The hollow display cover structure may have the shape of a hollow cylinder, a hollow tube with an oval, triangular, or rectangular cross-sectional shape, or other hollow shapes.
Crystalline, Sapphire or Transparent Materials
A material such as sapphire, other crystalline materials, or other transparent materials may be used in forming the hollow display cover structure. End caps may be attached to opposing ends of the hollow display cover structure.
As a side note, Apple signed a multi-year agreement with GTAT to provide Apple with sapphire material on November 4, 2013.
The elongated display cover structure may have a longitudinal axis. A flexible display layer such as an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display layer or other flexible display structure may be wrapped around the longitudinal axis to cover the interior surface of the hollow display cover structure. The flexible display layer may have edges that abut without overlapping, may have overlapping edges, or may have edges that protrude through an opening in a support structure along a seam.
Rotational Motion Detection
The electronic device may have a touch sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, and other sensors for gathering input such as user input. The electronic device may, for example, use one or more sensors to gather information on rotational motion of the device about the longitudinal axis, tilt events, and other motion of the electronic device. In response to detection of these device motions, the electronic device can display content on the flexible display layer.
The device may display content that moves or that remains at a fixed location on the surface of the flexible display layer. For example, the electronic device may display pages of content on the display layer in response to tilt events or other motions of the device.
The electronic device may also adjust scrolling activity and other on-screen content motions based on detected device rotation and other measured movement of the device.
If desired, content can be displayed in synchronization with the rotation of the electronic device about the longitudinal axis so that the displayed content remains at a fixed location relative to a user.
Content may be simultaneously displayed at a fixed location on the surface of the display. In response to detection of a vertical device orientation in which the longitudinal axis is vertical, the device may automatically scroll content on the display around the longitudinal axis.
Sapphire Display Cover Grown from Molten Material (Liquidmetal)
Apple's patent FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a transparent housing structures being grown from a molten material by pulling a seed crystal vertically upwards in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
Sapphire display cover structures may be grown as single crystals by pulling a boule of sapphire from a melt. This type of arrangement is shown in FIG. 4. Crucible 72 may be filled with alumina powder, which is raised to a sufficient temperature to form a molten liquid (melt 62). Apple's noted reference is likely representing liquidmetal without using its brand name.
According to Apple, the single-crystal seed 64 may then be pulled upwards in direction 68. As the seed crystal moves upwards, the material in the melt cools and crystallizes, forming a growing sapphire boule such as boule 66. The Boule may form display cover structures for the display.
The shape of the seed crystal that is used in growing the sapphire structure may influence the shape of sapphire structure. For example, if the seed crystal has an opening, the resulting sapphire structure that is grown may be hollow.
In the illustrative configuration of FIG. 4, the seed has the shape of a hollow circular ring having an opening such as opening 70. In general, the seed crystals may have any suitable shape (e.g., rings with one opening, rings with more than one opening, solid shapes with no openings, etc.).
Following the formation of a hollow sapphire structure it may be divided into individual device-sized pieces. The interior surfaces of the structures may be sufficiently smooth for use without additional machining.
Possible Transparent Display Cover Structure Designs
As shown in Apple's patent FIG. 15 below, we see circumferential end bands or other portions of inner surface 78 of the display cover structure 74 may be covered with opaque masking material in the shape of opaque rings 116 at longitudinally opposing ends of the display cover structure.
In Apple's patent FIG. 16 we see a perspective view of illustrative structures for display 12 in which the elongated transparent display cover structure and flexible display layer 86 have been configured to form a display having an elongated shape with a rectangular cross section with rounded edges.
In Apple's patent FIG. 17 we see a perspective view of illustrative structures for the display in which display cover structure and flexible display layer have been configured to form a display having an elongated shape with a triangular cross section.
Below is one of the many iPhone concept designs that have surfaced over the years. This one comes closest to Apple's patent FIG. 16 noted above with the "end caps" as presented in patent FIG. 7 further below.
Cylindrical Display Rotates Content as Display is Turned
Apple's patent FIG. 19 noted below is a perspective view of a display in the process of displaying content (#118) for a user of device. The user may be positioned, for example, at viewer location #120 and may view the display 12 in a downward direction (#122). As the user is using the device, the user may rotate it about axis #94.
For example, while staying in a fixed viewing location, the user may rotate the display in a counterclockwise direction #126 about axis #94. At the same time as the user is rotating the display 12 in a counterclockwise fashion, the device may rotate content on the surface of the display in the opposite direction (i.e., in clockwise direction 124). In one way, you could think of this concept working well with a wristband computer that Apple has already revealed months ago.
An accelerometer, gyroscope, and/or other sensors in the device may be used in monitoring the rotation and orientation of the device and the display in real time. Content can be displayed in synchronization with the rotation of the display if desired.
Apple's patent FIG. 21 is a side view of the device showing how the wrapped display may be viewed in direction #122 by a user at viewer position #120 while rotating the device and display in an upward direction (#126).
Gaming Example with Wraparound Display
Apple states that by rotating some of the content to counteract the rotation of the display, the device may maintain portions of content stationary with respect to viewer position while other portions of the content are allowed to rotate with the display.
For example, a game or other software may be implemented on the device that contains a ball or other object such as object 118B. Object 118B may be moved relative to the surface of the display by tilting and rotating the display.
As an example, the content 118A may represent the walls of a maze in a game while content 118B may represent a ball that moves relative to the walls of the maze. As the user rotates the display in direction #126 as noted in patent FIG. 19, the walls may rotate in the same direction as the display as if the walls were affixed to the surface of the display. While the walls are being rotated in this way relative to the viewer location, the ball may be displayed in a fixed location relative to viewer location.
Because the display is wrapped around the device, a user can rotate the display and the device indefinitely and the device can continually update the displayed content on the display. This allows the user to continue playing the game indefinitely without running out of display surface real estate.
Maps, Music Apps, Documents can be updated in Real-Time as the Display Rotates
Beyond games, Apple states that any content and/or app will be updated in real time as the display rotates. In fact, any of the applications found in iOS will be able to display the content on the display in this way (map applications, navigation applications, music applications that display music scores and other information, video editing applications that display videos on a timeline, etc.).
As shown in FIG. 23, content 118 may include text 118T and graphics 118G. As a user rotates display 12, content 118 may be updated. For example, the device may update the portion of the display that is not currently visible to the user with fresh content, so that the content on the display appears to be continuous (unending) and so that there are no visible artifacts associated with the updating process.
This type of arrangement may be used to allow a user to read a book or other long document without turning pages. Media files and other information may also be displayed in this way.
Auto Scroll Mode: Stock Ticker Mode Example
As shown in FIG. 20, device 10 may, if desired be placed in an end-down position on a surface such as surface 128. For example, the device may automatically scroll content around the surface of the display in circular direction (e.g., in a "stock ticker" mode) in response to data from an accelerometer or other sensors. Information that may be displayed in this way includes content associated with games, video, text (e.g., stock quotes, sports scores, news headlines, etc.).
Scrolling Face Side Content with Backside Gesture
Users will be able to scroll face side content with a backside gesture. This will also apply to flipping the page of an iBook; change the volume of your tunes; moving text in a document; controlling play/stop/forward in video apps and more.
Overview of Device Concept
An exploded perspective view of an illustrative device with a wrapped display is shown in FIG. 7 that may include hollow display cover structure 74. The device may also include a flexible display layer such as flexible display layer (flexible display) 86. The Flexible display layer 86 may be wrapped 360° around longitudinal axis 94 (i.e., the display layer may be wrapped around axis 94 sufficiently to surround axis 94). During assembly of layer 86 and the display cover structure to form the display, layer 86 may be attached to the inner of surface 78 of the display cover structure 74 using an optically clear adhesive or other fastening mechanisms.
And lastly, Apple notes that the electronic device described in their patent application may indeed apply to the following computers types: a future iMac (desktop computer), an iPad (tablet computer), or MacBook (laptop computer). The device may also be a handheld electronic device such as an iPhone (cellular telephone), iPod (media player) or other portable electronic devices, or other electronic equipment. The design would also be ideal for a wristband computer as we noted earlier.
Patently Apple discovered Apple's patent application that was published today by the European Patent Office. It was originally filed for in June 2012. Another Liquidmetal patent was also published today in the US under number 20130333165 titled "Fastener made of Bulk Amorphous Alloy." You could check it out here. Related Archive Report "Stunning Future iPhone with Wraparound Display Revealed."
Update 1:30 PST: One more thing. You knew it was only a matter of time, right? Well, today the US Patent Office published a Samsung patent application for work they're doing on .... you got it: liquid metal (metal glass). You could review the patent here.
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A Note about Liquid-Metal as used in this report: liquidmetal is known to be "amorphous metal alloys" developed by a California Institute of Technology (Caltech) research team. In one of Apple's patents titled "Bulk Metallic Glasses" they describe in their abstract "a method of selectively depositing molten bulk metallic glass (BMG)."
In this context it should be noted that any references made to liquidmetal or liquid-metal the "amorphous metal alloy" isn't referring to "Liquidmetal Technologies" the company.
In 2010 Apple signed an agreement. Crucible Intellectual Property, LLC, provides Apple with a full license to all of Liquidmetal's intellectual property for commercialization in consumer electronics.
In that light, Apple's patents refer to "amorphous metal alloys" and "Bulk Metallic Glasses" which one patent describes as "selectively depositing molten bulk metallic glass (BMG)." Apple never references the marketing brand ever in their patents and yet by definition what they're describing is in fact "liquidmetal (or liquid-metal)."
In our report today we noted the following: "Sapphire display cover structures may be grown as single crystals by pulling a boule of sapphire from a melt. This type of arrangement is shown in FIG. 4. Crucible 72 may be filled with alumina powder, which is raised to a sufficient temperature to form a molten liquid (melt 62). Apple's noted reference is likely representing liquidmetal without using its brand name."
For clarification purposes, our report referrenced the metal alloy and process known as liquidmetal (or liquid-metal) and not the company Liquidmetal Technologies.