Word of foldable smartphones coming to market has been floating around for years as the next category of smartphone. Samsung has been leading the way with multiple patents regarding scrollable and foldable smartphones that you could examine here, with Apple not too far behind as seen in our archives here.
In April Patently Apple posted a report titled "Next-Gen Foldable and Scrollable Smartphones will ultimately blur the line between Phones and Tablets." In May we posted a report about Huawei aiming to release their first foldable smartphone in November and earlier this week we reported that Samsung had officially started to ramp up their talk of their first foldable smartphone arriving sometime in 2019.
With future foldable smartphones gaining momentum in the press, it's no surprise to find the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publish yet another patent application from Apple regarding a "foldable cover and display," for a smartphone and beyond
One of Apple's latest inventions relates to electronic devices having a flexible or bendable region. More specifically, the embodiments are directed to an electronic device having a display layer and a cover layer that are configured to fold or bend along a flexible or bendable region.
The flexible cover layer may be formed from a ceramic material (e.g., glass, strengthened glass, sapphire, zirconia) to provide some measure of protection for the flexible display from impact or other potential damaging contact. The flexible cover layer may also provide structural support for the display along both the folded and non-folded regions of the device. As used herein, a cover layer may also be referred to as a cover sheet or simply as a cover.
In general, a foldable electronic device can be folded to accommodate a variety of form factors. For example, a foldable electronic device may be used in an unfolded configuration to allow use of an entire display area.
The foldable electronic device may also be used in a folded configuration, which may have a more compact size and may also provide a smaller display area.
As described in more detail in Apple's patent application, a foldable electronic device may be configured to allow multiple folds to provide multiple display arrangements for the electronic device.
In some cases, the electronic device can be partially or wholly unfolded to adjust the size of the viewable display area.
In my humble opinion, it may be that the multiple folded devices described above by Apple could apply to a future iPad – more than an iPhone.
Apple's patent FIGS. 1A and 1B illustrated below respectively illustrate a device in open and closed configurations.
In Apple's patent FIG. 4A above we're able to see device #400 in a fully folded or closed configuration. In the fully folded or closed configuration, roughly two thirds of the display layer #420 is viewable along the first region #481 and second region #482 of the device.
The display layer is also viewable along the first and second foldable regions #401, #402 of the device. The cover layer #410 is on the exterior of all regions of the device except third region #483.
As shown in FIG. 4A, the first foldable region has a smaller bend radius than the second foldable region which allows first region to overlap third region. The first foldable region is configured to bend in an opposite direction than the second foldable region.
In Apple's patent FIG. 14C below illustrates an example electronic device in a folded portion, the electronic device including a cover sheet having a single relief feature and a flexible display layer.
Apple further notes that in some implementations, features are formed into the substrate or glass of the cover sheet to facilitate bending at a particular location. The features may reduce the internal stress in the substrate or glass and may also help the cover sheet bend in a predictable and repeatable manner.
The features may include an array of cuts or reliefs having a shape that is configured to facilitate a particular bend or living hinge. The cuts or reliefs that are formed into the cover sheet may be filled with a more flexible or pliable material that is optically index matched to the substrate or glass of the cover sheet.
In some embodiments, a relief feature may be characterized by one or more dimensions such as a width or a depth.
Apple later notes in their patent filing that there would be other features of the electronic device with a bendable or flexible cover layer, such as a flexible display, a flexible circuit board, a flexible battery and more.
Lastly, Apple notes that the foldable device may also include one or more sensors, such as a force sensor, a capacitive sensor, an accelerometer, a barometer, a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, a light sensor, or the like. The sensors may be operably coupled to processing circuitry. In some embodiments, the sensors may detect deformation and/or changes in configuration of the electronic device and be operably coupled to processing circuitry which controls the display based on the sensor signals.
In some implementations, output from the sensors is used to reconfigure the display output to correspond to an orientation or folded/unfolded configuration or state of the device.
Example sensors for this purpose include accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and other similar types of position/orientation sensing devices. In addition, the sensors may include a microphone, acoustic sensor, light sensor, optical facial recognition sensor, or other types of sensing device.
Apple's patent application 20180217639 was filed back in January 2018 and published today by USPTO. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
One of the inventors on the patent is Dale Memering, Manager of Product Design Materials.
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