Apple patent embeds physical iPhone control, feedback components beneath flexible display

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2014
In a new patent discovered on Tuesday, Apple details a flexible mobile device screen that deforms to reveal buttons hidden beneath its surface, accepts sound and pressure input and provides haptic feedback.


Source: USPTO


As awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S Patent No. 8,816,977 for "Electronic devices with flexible displays" incorporates one or more flexible display layers overlaid atop actuators, buttons, switches, sliders, speakers, microphones and more.

In some embodiments, the system combines a flexible display layer, such as a compatible OLED substrate, with a similarly flexible capacitive touchscreen layer, which is then covered by a flexible or rigid cover. As the assembly is flexible, users can interact with components installed beneath.

According to one example, buttons or other control structures receive input from a user's finger or other object as it pushes onto the display, thus deforming it and transferring force onto a sensor. Certain systems can extend the device's active screen area by replacing external controls -- like an iPhone's home button -- with internal counterparts.


Illustration of sub-display structural component delineating position of embedded button.


Since the display is flexible, components positioned beneath can create an interactive raised structure that serves as a user input. When force is applied, the display deforms and activates the internal button, dome switch or other sensor before returning to its natural shape.

Alternatively, internal actuators can be made to press upward against the flexible layers to create temporary ridges, points or other shapes on the display surface, with each region made active or inactive to user input. For example, ridges can be used to outline a grid pattern corresponding to an onscreen keyboard.




Another implementation would include passive raised structures that force users to deform the display in order to reach an active sensor or switch. This use case lets operators "feel" for a button on the display without looking at the phone or activating a command prematurely.

Sound and localized vibrations, also known as haptics, are also good candidates for the technology, as speakers, microphones and vibration motors can be placed in key positions for dynamic feedback to user input. In some cases, the flexible display itself serves as an input module integrated into a microphone or pressure-sensing component.

For example, a simple coil and magnet speaker can drive a diaphragm integrated with a device display to output sound through the screen. Alternatively, vibrations captured by the display's large surface may be transmitted to the diaphragm and into the coil to induce a current, thereby creating an input signal. Additionally, a laser microphone can monitor minute vibrations on the screen coming from external sound waves, translating movement into audio input.




Apple notes the technology could be employed in devices such as the iPhone or iPad where space is at a premium, affording a larger input surface by moving physical controls beneath the display. Additionally, the layout would provide space for additional interactive elements like speakers, microphones and pressure sensors.

Along with added screen real estate, the invention would also serve to protect sensitive internal components from dust and debris as environmental exposure is kept to a minimum.




In a final embodiment, Apple describes how an actuator placed beneath a MacBook's touchpad could be used to lift the top cover away from the chassis for easier opening, an alternate take on the erstwhile magnetic latch seen in Apple's older model laptops.

It is unknown if Apple plans to employ flexible display technology in a future device, though the next-generation iPhone models anticipated for launch next month are not expected to boast such features. The company is consistently growing its advanced display IP portfolio, however, possibly signaling research into a more interactive and tactile user experience.

Apple's flexible display patent was first filed for in June 2011 and credits Fletcher R. Rothkopf, Scott A. Myers and Stephen Lynch as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    Hello full-screen iPhone 7 - goodbye homebutton :)
  • Reply 2 of 31
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,329member
    pixelworks wrote: »
    Hello full-screen iPhone 7 - goodbye homebutton :)
    I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.
  • Reply 3 of 31
    Cool. Looking forward to a pop-up keyboard coming to the new 13" iPad this autumn.
  • Reply 4 of 31
    2old4fun2old4fun Posts: 217member
    And how flexible is sapphire in this application?
  • Reply 5 of 31
    thepixeldocthepixeldoc Posts: 2,257member
    I could see that working.
  • Reply 6 of 31
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jsmythe00 View Post



    "technology could be employed in devices such as the iPhone or iPad where space is at a premium"



    Quit making the iPhones so thin and you'll have space! Don't get me wrong. I love my IP5S. It's thin enough. Is rather see the next iPhone the same thickness but more or better internals.

     

    I agree - I don't need a phone to be 0.5mm thick - and I don't want it to be 10" diagonal after you add a case. 

     

    Many people may have there handheld device glued to their hand - mine spend plenty of time in a pocket or other location beside in my hand in front of my face. 

  • Reply 7 of 31
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by singularity View Post





    I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.

    Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.

  • Reply 8 of 31
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jsmythe00 View Post



     I still think the 5.5 is the new iPod touch gaming device

    I wouldn't really call that "thinking".

     

    I can't even begin to think about describing the sheer absurdity that goes into thinking that Apple would even consider making a 4.7 iPhone and then 5.5 iPod touch.

     

    There is no fathomable stretch of the imagination that could even pretend to take that seriously.

  • Reply 9 of 31
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,509member
    malax wrote: »
    Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.

    Me too. Seven devices, Pads, Pods, Phones, not a single one has failed since 2008. Good thing I have other stuff to do while i'm waiting.
  • Reply 10 of 31
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,329member
    malax wrote: »
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false">Quote:<div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>singularity</strong> <a href="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463"><img alt="View Post" src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" /></a><br /><br /><br />I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.</div></div><p>Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.</p>
    I had a wonderful time cleaning the home button on my iPhone 4 with some methanol to remove the "gunk" that was keeping the home button in the pressed position. It took a few goes but it then failed to fail again. :D
    in fact if Apple wanted to increase the functionality of the screen get rid of that Damn start button. To me it's an eyesore and just wastes real estate.
  • Reply 11 of 31
    malax wrote: »
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false">Quote:<div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>singularity</strong> <a href="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463"><img alt="View Post" src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" /></a><br /><br /><br />I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.</div></div><p>Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.</p>
    I had a wonderful time cleaning the home button on my iPhone 4 with some methanol to remove the "gunk" that was keeping the home button in the pressed position. It took a few goes but it then failed to fail again. :D
    in fact if Apple wanted to increase the functionality of the screen get rid of that Damn start button. To me it's an eyesore and just wastes real estate.

    Touch ID?
  • Reply 12 of 31
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,509member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by singularity View Post





    I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.

     

    Talking about the tech shown in this article, there is still a mechanical button under the screen.

  • Reply 13 of 31
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,329member
    malax wrote: »
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false">Quote:<div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>singularity</strong> <a href="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463"><img alt="View Post" src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" /></a><br /><br /><br />I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.</div></div><p>Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.</p>
    I had a wonderful time cleaning the home button on my iPhone 4 with some methanol to remove the "gunk" that was keeping the home button in the pressed position. It took a few goes but it then failed to fail again. :D
    in fact if Apple wanted to increase the functionality of the screen get rid of that Damn start button. To me it's an eyesore and just wastes real estate.

    Touch ID?
    Does touch ID need to be incorporated into the physical home button or can it be in the "screen"?
  • Reply 14 of 31
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,329member
    clemynx wrote: »
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false">Quote:<div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>singularity</strong> <a href="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463"><img alt="View Post" src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" /></a><br /><br /><br />I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.</div></div><p> </p><p>Talking about the tech shown in this article, there is still a mechanical button under the screen.</p>
    Though in this patent the physical part is protected from anything ingressing
  • Reply 15 of 31
    malax wrote: »
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false">Quote:<div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>singularity</strong> <a href="/t/181974/apple-patent-embeds-physical-iphone-control-feedback-components-beneath-flexible-display#post_2584463"><img alt="View Post" src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" /></a><br /><br /><br />I can't wait. Physical buttons are a failure waiting to happen.</div></div><p>Tell me about it.  My family has maybe 9 iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads and we're still waiting for one of the home buttons to fail.  We're getting impatient.</p>
    I had a wonderful time cleaning the home button on my iPhone 4 with some methanol to remove the "gunk" that was keeping the home button in the pressed position. It took a few goes but it then failed to fail again. :D
    in fact if Apple wanted to increase the functionality of the screen get rid of that Damn start button. To me it's an eyesore and just wastes real estate.

    Touch ID?
    Does touch ID need to be incorporated into the physical home button or can it be in the "screen"?

    No idea, but it would be great if it could. Seems doubtful, though.
  • Reply 16 of 31
    timmydaxtimmydax Posts: 284member
    pmz wrote: »
    I wouldn't really call that "thinking".

    I can't even begin to think about describing the sheer absurdity that goes into thinking that Apple would even consider making a 4.7 iPhone and then 5.5 iPod touch.

    There is no fathomable stretch of the imagination that could even pretend to take that seriously.

    I'll bite.

    Describe the sheer absurdity.
  • Reply 17 of 31
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by pmz View Post

    I wouldnt really call that "thinking". I can’t even begin to think about describing the sheer absurdity that goes into thinking that Apple would even consider making a 4.7 iPhone and then 5.5 iPod touch. There is no fathomable stretch of the imagination that could even pretend to take that seriously.

     

    Well, it’s better than your “argument”, which is absolutely nothing whatsoever. No disproof of the benefits of the idea, not even a rebuttal. 

     

    THE IPOD TOUCH ISN’T HELD TO YOUR HEAD. That’s reason number one it can be larger than the iPhone. You’re saying that it would be ludicrous for Apple to make the iPad larger than the iPhone.

  • Reply 18 of 31
    This would be awesome. Over my past few iPhones I've had my volume button, power button and home button fail on me, and the mute switch is semi-stuck now I can no longer switch with one finger. This better be more than just a patent.
  • Reply 19 of 31
    This isn't for the iPhone (at first). This is for the watch!!

    No openings? Mic & Speaker & button functionality in a fully enclosed unit - can you say waterproof!? 'Feel' for button w/out looking? All signs here point to the iWatch.
  • Reply 20 of 31

    Soooo... dynamic braille as an accessibility option?

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