Apple working on folding iPhone display with more robust bend radius

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 5
Apple is continuing to look into the possibility of creating a foldable iPhone, one equipped with a hinge that allows a flexible display to be bent enough for the smartphone to fold, but preventing the display from developing a crease.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Samsung Galaxy Fold


The current trend in smartphones is the addition of a flexible display and movable sections, as evidenced by models from Samsung like the Fold and another rumored device. While producing a smartphone in the first place is a massive feat of engineering in the first place, creating one where the entire unit can fold is a much harder prospect, due to the display.

Even in instances where a smartphone includes a flexible display, there are limits to how far you can bend a material before it creases like paper. For displays especially, creases can make the screen appear unsightly with extra bumped sections, while creasing can fatigue the display and make it crack or break over time.

In a patent published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday titled "Electronic devices with flexible displays and hinges," Apple suggests the design of a mobile device that includes a flexible display within a foldable housing. At its core is the concept of allowing a flexible display to be bent sufficiently enough to make the device fold in half, but to do so in such a way that it protects the display.

Apple's solution is that it needs to bend the display in a certain way, specifically by allowing the middle section to bow outward slightly before making the curve around. By doing so, this can allow the main sections and edges of the display away from the curved area to meet up as close as they can, while allowing the bending section to do so at an enlarged radius, minimizing stress.

An illustration of how the screen can be folded, while allowing the bend to bow out slightly to give it a bigger radius
An illustration of how the screen can be folded, while allowing the bend to bow out slightly to give it a bigger radius


To accomplish this, Apple proposes a hinge mechanism that allows the screen to be supported by the main housing, flat and held in a planar state. On bending, the hinge mechanism simultaneously rotates elements of the housing around the section where the bend is located, to keep the device appearing neat and tidy.

On the inside, the hinge manages the movement of the display to bow out at the hinge, using a void section to give the screen the space it needs for the enlarged bend curve. A rack and gear arrangement can be used to maintain the distances of the housing and the display from each folded element in the static areas, as well as enforcing the desired bend radius.

The use of a void does offer up the possibility of the display not being supported properly in the bend area when the device is open, but Apple again has a solution. When unfolded, retractable flaps can be extended internally to support the display there, so finger presses won't affect the screen's position nor fatigue it more than necessary for normal usage.

An example mechanism used to maintain the integrity of the display when the device is folded
An example mechanism used to maintain the integrity of the display when the device is folded


Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a patent filing indicates areas of interest for the company's research and development efforts, it does not guarantee a future product or service will use the described concepts at all.

This is far from the first time Apple has entertained the idea of using a flexible display, with many filings over the years indicating it is an area of interest for the company. In 2018, it gained a patent for the similarly-titled "Electronic devices with flexible displays" that explained how a screen can have multiple elements to assist with the fold, such as recesses in the material protecting the display layer made by grooves filled by other flexible materials.

It has also explored making a larger device with a display that bends in a zig-zag fashion, wrap-around displays, foldable phones that could clip onto clothing, and even a heating system to warm up the bending section of the screen in cold weather to minimize damage.

The patent lists its inventors as Jiang Ai, Mitchell A. Heschke, Soyoung Kim, and Stephen R. McClure.

Ai has appeared on previous folding display patent filings alongside Kim, as well as others relating to device cover attachment mechanisms and flexible battery structures. Kim was formerly a manager for iPad product design at Apple before shifting over to Tesla in 2017, where she now specializes in optics.

Heschke has a similar career trajectory, previously working as an iPad product design engineer before moving to Tesla in 2018, but is linked to a patent titled "Acoustic compensation chamber for a remotely located audio device."

Formerly a senior manager on the iPad product design team until exiting in 2015, McClure is currently the head of Portal at Facebook. While appearing on a number of patent filings, the most closely connected listings are for curved battery designs from 2013.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    Awesome to see Apple innovation working hard - can't figure out though why no one else would go down this path but glad to see Apple taking the lead here.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 39
    Aaaaaaand still don’t need a folding screen.

    Although, if anyone was to do it right, I would put my bet on Apple!
    SpamSandwicholswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 39
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,259member
    What I’m waiting to see is all the people on sites like this who completely dismiss and trash foldable displays as useless and pointless who will then turn around and gush about how great they are once Apple makes one.  

    It’s not surprising that Apple is at least looking into this - they would be remiss not to. We’ll see if anything comes of it. As many people here have posted, Apple puts more stock in doing something well than in doing it first. Samsung did it first and we saw how well that turned out! Beyond the technical hurdles of making it functional and durable, part of the problem with  such a display is making it usable. The entire operating system and user interface are designed around a single display and simply folding it out doesn’t make for a very functional device. I’m sure the interface team at apple is already working on this, though. 





    GeorgeBMacCloudTalkinavon b7NinjaManchemengin1olswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 39
    larryalarrya Posts: 582member
    I think I'd almost prefer 2 edge-to-edge displays over a single, large folding display.  You can have glass covers instead of scratchy plastic, and you don't have the screen fold to worry about.  iOS could treat it like a dual monitor setup and run full screen versions of two apps.  The bezels would be so small I'm not sure I would be bothered.  The only disadvantage is not being able to display a large web page or document without the bezels getting in the way; but after all, it's a phone.  I have far more use cases for 2 separate apps than editing a large document.
    beeble42randominternetpersonmailmeofferswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 39
    MplsP said:
    The entire operating system and user interface are designed around a single display and simply folding it out doesn’t make for a very functional device. I’m sure the interface team at apple is already working on this, though. 

    By and large large displays are already implemented if your universal app supports iPhone and iPad. And especially if your iPad app supports the compact and wide traits needed to let your app run in the multitasking sidebars.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 39
    cg27cg27 Posts: 127member
    Seems that larger radius fold could be used to store an Apple Pencil Mini.

    And when the Pencil is docked it could actually help spread out forces evenly when the phone is folded and squeezed shut, say in one’s tight jean back pocket, to further reduce the risk of creasing.
    edited February 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 39
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,462member
    no, no, nO, nO, NO, NO! This is the entire industry grasping at straws in an attempt to come up with something new now that the smartphone has matured into a standardized form. EVERYTHING that bends eventually breaks. It’s written into Einstein’s field equations for General Relativity. 
    gatorguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 39
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,270member
    So, why not just bend it outwards with the display on the outside instead of two backs?   That would also enable the phone to use its display in 'normal' mode without unfolding it.   Or is the material too soft to avoid scratches?  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 39
    DRBDRB Posts: 34member
    Aaaaaaand still don’t need a folding screen.

    Although, if anyone was to do it right, I would put my bet on Apple!
    I just don’t see how anyone can make a bendable unit that’s sealed against dust, liquid, etc.    take a couple of sheets of paper, lay them flat so the edges meet, fold them gently, see how the edges don’t stay together?   That’s with thin sheets of paper and they don’t stay together.   I think this an impossible task to make the device.   
    edited February 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 39
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 398member
    I don't know what the preoccupation with a folding display is about - like a desperate attempt to find a use case for bendable displays.  As another poster suggested - and I can't figure out why nobody's done it yet - a far easier and much less fragile solution would be to simply have two displays with near-zero bezels come together on a simple hinge.  Sure, you'll have a thin black line separating the two halves of the "big" display, but that is hardly any worse than having to read text on a creased foldable display.  

    Having two displays on a hinge has the additional benefit that while folded you could still use one side or the other as a regular phone.  The folding solutions I've seen either require yet another display (Samsung) or the foldable display folds on the outside (leading to a more pronounced crease while unfolded).

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 39
    M68000M68000 Posts: 367member
    Such a design could be a dust and dirt magnet.  It could also mean pouch style cases would be more popular.  Not sure I’m interested in folding phone,  not understanding the appeal or value if any.  Looks like it could be heavy too?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 39
    no one can see the benefit in a folding display..

    really?

    I have been waiting since the 90s for a 32” laptop

    shrug, foldable is so last century 

    i now want the no display computer
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 39
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member
    lkrupp said:
    no, no, nO, nO, NO, NO! This is the entire industry grasping at straws in an attempt to come up with something new now that the smartphone has matured into a standardized form. EVERYTHING that bends eventually breaks. It’s written into Einstein’s field equations for General Relativity. 

    I don’t think that’s what Apple is doing. The patent is for electronic devices. Apple is known for breaking left with technologies, that is to say, not doing what everyone expects they will. Everyone just assumes this is for smartphones because that’s the biggest market. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 39
    So, why not just bend it outwards with the display on the outside instead of two backs?   That would also enable the phone to use its display in 'normal' mode without unfolding it.   Or is the material too soft to avoid scratches?  
    Royole already did that with the Flexpai.  Your assumption is correct.  There's nothing to protect the screen from damage from scratches and the chance of damaging the screen from accidental drops is exponentially higher than having a screen on the inside protected by the frame.

    That being said, I'm not really excited about foldable screens. 
     lkrupp said:
    no, no, nO, nO, NO, NO! This is the entire industry grasping at straws in an attempt to come up with something new now that the smartphone has matured into a standardized form. EVERYTHING that bends eventually breaks. It’s written into Einstein’s field equations for General Relativity. 
    Everything that bends eventually breaks.  That does not mean it breaks right away.  In the case of foldable phones that breakage could be 2 years from new, 10 years from new, or anytime in between.  Inverted mixed case letters, exclamation points, and all caps seem like unnecessarily hyperbolic reaction to a patent application don't you think?
    avon b7
  • Reply 15 of 39
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,052member
    it looks more like for laptops than folding phones.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 39
    No one needs this, no one is asking for this.
  • Reply 17 of 39
    normangnormang Posts: 116member
    There used to be Motorola Razr's, remember those?   I had a couple, while the display of course was not "folding" the unit was and I broke at least two of them because the hinges failed..   this is not significantly different..  If you fold it enough times, it will break..
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 39
    04430443 Posts: 2member
    Why anyone would bash this is beyond me. 2 is better than 1. 
  • Reply 19 of 39
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,768member
    DRB said:
    Aaaaaaand still don’t need a folding screen.

    Although, if anyone was to do it right, I would put my bet on Apple!
    I just don’t see how anyone can make a bendable unit that’s sealed against dust, liquid, etc.    take a couple of sheets of paper, lay them flat so the edges meet, fold them gently, see how the edges don’t stay together?   That’s with thin sheets of paper and they don’t stay together.   I think this an impossible task to make the device.   
    Exactly.  There's no escaping the reality of a three dimensional world.  The outer surface of a folding screen will always want to tear away from the inner surface every time you fold the screen.  Maybe there are materials that are flexible enough to not delaminate when you occasionally unfold and fold the screen, but throughout the normal use life of a phone?  Say 3 years X 365 days X 10 open-then-close events.  Thats 10,950 fold-unfolds.  Is there a material that can do that without visibly wearing out at the crease?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 39
    Given Apple's track record of cranking out fragile first-gen devices, I would think thrice about buying a folding iPhone, at least until they borrow enough innovations from Samsung's iterations to make it durable. That is to say, until Apple "does it right".
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