Apple patents foldable iPhone with flexible display that can clip onto clothing

Posted:
in General Discussion edited November 2016
An Apple patent published Tuesday reveals the company has for years been actively investigating a hinged iPhone format, with designs calling for a flexible metal-backed OLED display capable of being folded in half.


Source: USPTO


As granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,504,170 for "Flexible display devices" describes an iPhone with a foldable full-screen display. Like clamshell cellphones popularized by Motorola in the 1990s, Apple's proposed design also folds in two when not in use for easy storage.

To achieve a foldable format, Apple's invention relies on a number of flexible components, the most important being an OLED display and metal support structure. For the latter, the document proposes nitinol, a nickel and titanium alloy known for its elasticity and unique shape memory abilities. Alternative embodiments involve flexible polymers.




In some examples, the foldable phone incorporates a chassis or device housing split into upper and lower sections, each containing processors, sensors and other typical smartphone circuitry. For example, an upper housing might include cameras, display controllers, speaker modules and light sensors, while the bottom portion holds microphones, CPU and GPU, vibrator and other necessary parts.

The two pieces are attached via a single- or multi-shaft hinge mechanism supporting rotational motion, allowing the two housing portions to move relative one another. Connections between upper and lower housing are accomplished through flexible printed circuit boards.

Installed over the two housing structures is the display. Interestingly, Apple's document notes the flexible screen can include extra material to accommodate two or more folding configurations.




In one example, the proposed smartphone's screen folds over onto itself similar to an old clamshell cellphone, offering additional protection from the elements. An opposite configuration describes the display as facing outward after folding for easy operating access. In this second orientation, the device housing can include sawtooth detents at its distal ends for clipping onto a user's clothing.

Alternatively, the display can be made to retract within one or both housings. To alleviate stresses on the sensitive OLED component, Apple suggests tensioning members and rollers be employed for dispensing and retracting the display during hinge rotation.

The document goes on to detail two-hinge designs, cover glass and viewing angle considerations, and various alternative embodiments.




Considering iPhone's design progression over nearly ten years, it is unlikely that Apple will release a foldable format smartphone anytime soon. That being said, the technology outlined in today's invention might one day make its way into other product lines like MacBook or iPad.

In the near term, Apple is widely rumored to release an iPhone model with flexible OLED display in 2017, but the form factor is expected to remain faithful to the line's monolithic design.

Apple's foldable iPhone patent was first filed for in July 2014 and credits Fletcher R. Rothkopf, Andrew J. M. Janis and Teodor Dabov as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    Aaaaaand the iPhone 8 is already obsolete. 
    frantisek
  • Reply 2 of 21
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    2020 maybe
  • Reply 3 of 21
    We really should go back to when you had to have actually invented something to patent it, not just drawn a picture of something you think might work someday.
    gatorguy
  • Reply 4 of 21
    Just like the device in Westworld - 3 folded panels
    fastasleepdasanman69
  • Reply 5 of 21
    I want the matching folding stylus.
  • Reply 6 of 21
    This is obviously not going to happen.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,380member
    buckalec said:
    Just like the device in Westworld - 3 folded panels
    Both Fujitsu and Nokia (among others) patented somewhat similar folding smartphone designs with three folds several years ago, around 2007-08. Apple's idea builds on those by adding a flexible screen, something that would not have been available of course "back in the day". I think we might actually see a foldable smartphone in the next year or two, but not likely from Apple. 
    edited November 2016
  • Reply 8 of 21
    This folding iPhone is not going to happen, because it is predicated on a fixed relationship between display size and the underlying computer that powers iPhone. But display screen size is not going to change much, because our eyes and hands don't change as technology improves.

    In coming years, the computer inside of iPhone will continue to shrink, until it will fit into a small matchbox (eventually, even smaller). The display will be a separate device that will receive signals from that tiny box via Bluetooth. This is the pattern established by AppleWatch, smart glasses, AppleTV (with Airplay). The iPhone displays will be the size of credit cards and larger -- up to a theater-size screen. One computer, but various display screens for different applications.
    edited November 2016
  • Reply 9 of 21
    Alright, Tim!

    Your team is rethinking the design of the mobile smartphone. This secret patent shows innovation has been and continues to be thriving at Apple. 

    i am glad this patent was not made public until today. The Barron's article yesterday predicted a decade or more of stagnation at Apple starting in 2018. The article looked silly yesterday and even more so today!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 21
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,380member
    This folding iPhone is not going to happen, because it is predicated on a fixed relationship between display size and the underlying computer that powers iPhone. But display screen size is not going to change much, because our eyes and hands don't change as technology improves.

    In coming years, the computer inside of iPhone will continue to shrink, until it will fit into a small matchbox (eventually, even smaller). The display will be a separate device that will receive signals from that tiny box via Bluetooth. This is the pattern established by AppleWatch, smart glasses, AppleTV (with Airplay). The iPhone displays will be the size of credit cards and larger -- up to a theater-size screen. One computer, but various display screens for different applications.
    They've already probably shrunken enough if the display can be separated. Intel has a Compute Stick, Archos offers a PC Stick, Asus has their Chromebit and Vivo Stick, some of which could have been housed in a matchbox instead. But IMHO the market would extremely limited for a mobile computer driving a separate mobile display. Carrying two devices instead of one is going in the opposite direction from what buyers seem to prefer isn't it? Look at even many (most?) Apple users deciding it's better to carry a large iPhone for double-duty rather than a small one and an additional tablet for viewing media. I think more folks prefer lightening the number of devices and the components they carry around on a daily basis. 
    edited November 2016
  • Reply 11 of 21
    tshapitshapi Posts: 354member
    Apple will never come out with a foldable screen phone.  This has been tried before. And where are they now? Sprint had one on its network... OLED is the next mainstream material for screens. And th material to follow that hasn't been invented yet. People say micro-led but I suspect the next generation of screens will be invented with nanotechnology allowing for phones not to need a fixed size or screen size. The entire phone for example will a box let's say the size of a matchbox as stated above. A sceen size or availability of sizes... and I'll be programmed and upon pressing the button the nano technology will grow to make the phone. Then when the person wants to put it back in there pocket the nanotechnology will shrink back into the containment box.  This may not be the near future. But it's most likely the next generation after the oled technology. Which I suspect will be here for at least 10-15 more years. Before we even see a new screen type. Let's face it. The future is not foldable screens.  
  • Reply 12 of 21
    My wife uses a phone that folds, Apple is finally catching up. /s
    dasanman69
  • Reply 13 of 21
    natevancouvernatevancouver Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    This would allow Apple to make a razor-thin phone that flips open. Combined with what we know about Apple’s car development, you can imagine a future where everyone uses these phones and no one drives cars like Kia, only Apple cars with electric motors. A no-Kia motor razor flip phone world.
  • Reply 14 of 21
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,046member
    Sog's wish may come earlier than expected.
  • Reply 15 of 21
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,046member
    sog35 said:
    LOL.

    I brought this up THREE YEARS AGO. And you guys said I was an idiot.

    The road map for the next 10 years is clear for iPhone.

    Idiots who said we peaked in iPhone design are total dummies with ZERO vision.

    Next 3 years - iPhones with small bezel
    Next 7 years after that - foldable displays

    imagine having a 7 inch iPhone screen that folds in half to the size of an iPhone5?

    And you need to unfold it for use, how can you use it with that giant screen?
  • Reply 16 of 21
    stantheman said:
    In coming years, the computer inside of iPhone will continue to shrink, until it will fit into a small matchbox (eventually, even smaller). 
    I actually think of something that is even smaller. Every components including battery will be small enough to be designed around the edge of the iPhone. And voila, a perfect transparent piece of glass! That would be capable of dual view front and back, no chin, no physical button. Volume and power are through the surface of the glass.
  • Reply 17 of 21
    tshapi said:
    Apple will never come out with a foldable screen phone.  This has been tried before. And where are they now? Sprint had one on its network... OLED is the next mainstream material for screens. And th material to follow that hasn't been invented yet. People say micro-led but I suspect the next generation of screens will be invented with nanotechnology allowing for phones not to need a fixed size or screen size. The entire phone for example will a box let's say the size of a matchbox as stated above. A sceen size or availability of sizes... and I'll be programmed and upon pressing the button the nano technology will grow to make the phone. Then when the person wants to put it back in there pocket the nanotechnology will shrink back into the containment box.  This may not be the near future. But it's most likely the next generation after the oled technology. Which I suspect will be here for at least 10-15 more years. Before we even see a new screen type. Let's face it. The future is not foldable screens.  

  • Reply 18 of 21
    'pressing the button.' Really? If Hardware (components) are able to 'grow' expand and 'shrink' retract -- then I'm thinking many decades of innovation to reach that point of such sophisticated technology.
  • Reply 19 of 21
    My wife uses a phone that folds, Apple is finally catching up. /s
    I think about two years ago I remember viewing a couple of LG videos that demonstrated various Flexible OLED screens configurations. So this is definitely nothing new.

    In fact, I also read that this is apple's core policy. 'Wait and See.' Why? Because they always follow what catchers on. In other words:  Let the other guys do it first, and if it's successful, then we'll do it.

    Apple is well known for piggy-backing the likes of Samsung, LG and others. They save time and money that way. For example:  LG offered Swype (now called Path) text input as early as 2011. Yet, it wasn't available in Apple until September 2015 - and then it had to be purchased as an app, which some developer had made, which was quirky at best.

    So if history repeats itself - this won't be available until the Koreans have long-made it and sold it first. Which is Samsung and LG.


    taniwha
  • Reply 20 of 21
    xixoxixo Posts: 431member
    darkvader said:
    We really should go back to when you had to have actually invented something to patent it, not just drawn a picture of something you think might work someday.
    buckalec said:
    Just like the device in Westworld - 3 folded panels
    Alright, Tim!

    Your team is rethinking the design of the mobile smartphone. This secret patent shows innovation has been and continues to be thriving at Apple. 

    i am glad this patent was not made public until today. The Barron's article yesterday predicted a decade or more of stagnation at Apple starting in 2018. The article looked silly yesterday and even more so today!

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