While Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and others have introduced foldable smartphones, Apple remains on the sidelines watching the market and continuing to work on aspects of a future foldable iPhone or iPad. Today, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple titled “Electronic Devices with Folding Displays Having Flexible Area Support Structures.”
Apple’s patent application states that an electronic device may be provided with a foldable housing that allows the device to fold and unfold about a bend axis. A flexible display may be mounted in the foldable housing. The flexible display may have an array of pixels forming a display panel. The display panel may be configured to bend along the bend axis as the device is folded.
The flexible display may have a display cover layer that overlaps the display panel. The display cover layer may be formed from a layer of glass. A groove-shaped recess may be formed in the layer of glass that runs parallel to the bend axis. The recess forms a flexible locally thinned portion in the glass over the bend axis that allows the display to bend about the bend axis.
Polymer may be placed in the recess to help planarize the inner surface of the display cover layer. Stiffening structures such as glass strips and/or glass beads of one or more diameters may be embedded in the polymer to help stiffen the surface of the display cover layer in the locally thinned region so that the outer surface of the display cover layer is not too easily deformed by external pressure from an object such as a stylus (Apple Pencil). While supporting the outer surface of the display cover layer, the stiffening structures allow the display cover layer to bend satisfactorily about the bend axis.
Apple finally revealed last March that one of their foldable devices would be laptop. The patent included a similar patent figure that Apple’s current patent application provides as presented below. A foldable laptop, unlike a MacBook, would allow a hybrid design like an iPad that folds and could function as a laptop with either a virtual keyboard or a magnetically attached keyboard. Asus and HP will be introducing such products later this fall.
Apple confirms that patent FIG. 1 below that could be an iPhone, iPad, laptop computer as presented in FIG. 2; FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display having a cover layer with a locally thinned hinge region; FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative locally thinned display cover layer with a polymer filler having embedded particles.
As shown in FIG. 7 above, stiffening structures such as stiffening particles #60 may be incorporated into polymer #50 within the recess under thinned portion #44 of display cover layer #14CG. The particles may be spheres or particles of other shapes and may be formed from a material such as glass with a modulus of elasticity that is greater than that of the polymer. This stiffens the polymer and help prevent the portion of surface #40 that lies above thinned portion #44 from being too easily depressed (e.g., too easily locally deformed inward) due to pressure on surface #40 from the tip of a stylus or other external object.
At the same time, because particles #60 are not directly connected to each other by any rigid structures, the particles are free to move relative to each other while the polymer flexed. As a result, layer #14CG and the polymer may still bend freely about bend axis #28.
For more details, review Apple’s patent application number 20220201885.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.