Expanding iPhone could use a sliding body design and a flexible screen

in Future Apple Hardware
A future iPhone could have an expanding screen, if Apple's research on how to make sliding sections within the smartphone's body support a flexible display pans out.

The allure of a super-sized foldable iPhone that packs small has led to many rumors about foldable models. One analyst forecast an 8-inch flexible OLED iPhone could arrive in 2023, while reports from December 2020 pointed to a pair of iPhone designs using foldable components being prototyped and tested by Foxconn.

However, while a foldable smartphone provides extra viewable screen space, the bending element has the chance to cause a seam across the display, weakening it over time.

In a patent granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday titled "Electronic devices having sliding expandable displays," Apple proposes a display design where a flexible display is effectively rolled up inside an enclosure, like a scroll.

The housing includes elements that can slide, lengthening the body of the enclosure at the same time as dragging the display out of its scroll state. The display can be tensioned, such as by using a coil spring, to make sure it is flat and that it rolls back up when the enclosure is slid back to its more compact state.

In effect, the system will potentially allow a smartphone style device to either get longer or wider, increasing the usable screen size to match, depending on how it is set up. When in its compact state, part of the display will still be usable.

While the body can slide down the screen could be pulled out, with a spring providing tension.
While the body can slide down the screen could be pulled out, with a spring providing tension.

The patent discusses different ways to handle sliding motions, including the use of elongated members to keep the two main sections connected together. Elongated members will also be used to provide support to the flexible display as the overall size of the device grows.

These members could be included on one or both sections of the enclosure, giving more flexibility to designers.

The way the display is held inside the body is also mentioned in claims, with suggestions the flexible screen can have a single bend that allows it to double back on itself once inside the body, largely remaining flat. A second variation has two bends, with the screen doubling back on itself twice when curled up inside the body.

The screen itself is made out of a flexible substrate, with mention of it comprising of a flexible OLED display.

A small-screen device could slide the body down, unfurling a larger display.
A small-screen device could slide the body down, unfurling a larger display.

The patent lists its inventors ass Michael B. Wittenberg, Owen D. Hale, and Tatsuya Sano. It was originally filed on January 16, 2020, and became known to AppleInsider as an application on October 15, 2020.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly bass, but while the existence of a patent indicates areas of interest for its research and development teams, it doesn't guarantee the idea will appear in a future product or service.

Foldable and flexible displays are still a relatively new concept in smartphone design, with a few models reaching the market, albeit with teething issues. Nevertheless, Apple has been doing research on the subject for its own potential products.

In March 2021, it gained a patent for ways to heat the area of the display that folds the most to minimize the chance of cracking. In December 2020, it considered the use of hinge structures to help support a foldable display, as well as gear systems.

The idea of unusual displays has knocked around Apple for quite a few years, including wrap-around iPhone designs that stem back to 2016, as well as earlier patents about flexible devices.

Keep up with everything Apple in the weekly AppleInsider Podcast -- and get a fast news update from AppleInsider Daily. Just say, "Hey, Siri," to your HomePod mini and ask for these podcasts, and our latest HomeKit Insider episode too.If you want an ad-free main AppleInsider Podcast experience, you can support the AppleInsider podcast by subscribing for $5 per month through Apple's Podcasts app, or via Patreon if you prefer any other podcast player.

Read on AppleInsider


  • Reply 1 of 6
    Taking into account the speed that Apple inventions are coming, I guess it’s for 2030…
  • Reply 2 of 6
    crowleycrowley Posts: 8,724member
    Doubt it.  Just a patent, not a product.
  • Reply 3 of 6
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 1,184member
    This is at least a more elegant approach than a folding screen. 
  • Reply 4 of 6
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,545moderator
    Other companies have made prototypes of these, they call them rollable smartphones:

    They still have many of the issues that foldable phones have - the flexibility of the display makes it more susceptible to scratching and the mechanical parts are more prone to failure.

    It also leaves a lot of seams exposed where you can catch your finger when opening and closing.

    It looks cool when it opens and closes but it produces an odd sized display. It could potentially act as a replacement for an iPad mini for some people if it was applied to Apple's bigger smartphone models - iPhone Pro Max Plus.

    They couldn't make the display with corners like that, it would have to be built more like the iPod nano with the flat top and rounded sides. There would have to be an edge where the display slid under the frame, which leaves room for grit scratching the display. The notch and camera would also go off-center unless it expanded in both directions.

    The demos look quite neat but this still seems like it's trying to be a solution to a problem nobody has and engineering a mechanical and software solution (rescaling all app UIs in real-time) to gain this extra screen space is far more work than the benefits it offers. It's technology that's worth experimenting with to see if it can be made practical, I don't think it will be.
  • Reply 5 of 6
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,670member
    It’s an interesting concept but I don’t think it will be viable until we get to the point where you have a display/device that rolls up like a piece of paper and is about that thin.  
  • Reply 6 of 6
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,814member
    What could possibly go wrong with such a delicate looking design? I made the mistake of buying one of those storm doors with the screen that rolls down as you lower the glass panel. Seemed like a great idea not having to find a place to store a big pane of glass during the summer. First time I tried it I heard a big “splong” followed by a crash as the screen roll separated from the roller and the glass pane came crashing down into the lower cavity of the door. The glass didn’t break, but the screen was trashed. Luckily the manufacturer send me a new screen and I found a couple of YouTube videos showing how to replace it in 90 minutes or less. Moral of the story, you can only tempt fate and kick KISS principles in the nuts so many times before it comes back to haunt you. Science experiments and needlessly over-designed claptrap are only fun until someone gets hurt, especially if that someone is you or your wallet. Don’t need and don’t want a folding, rolling, or otherwise mechanically articulating iPhone. I’m cool with slab. But I leave my options open to a 3D holographic iPhone that floats in the air, is controlled by brain waves, and pops out crunchy Cheetos on demand.
Sign In or Register to comment.