The USPTO has today published an Apple patent application for a flexible display which deforms when touched to provide tactile feedback. Actuators beneath the display would create bumps or ridges in the display to simulate buttons and other virtual objects. The patent also describes a speaker and microphone that could work through the display, potentially making for sleeker and more water-resistant devices.

Electronic devices may be provided that contain flexible displays and internal components. An internal component may be positioned under the flexible display. The internal component may be an output device such as a speaker that transmits sound through the flexible display or an actuator that deforms the display in a way that is sensed by a user. The internal component may also be a microphone or pressure sensor that receives sound or pressure information through the flexible display. Structural components may be used to permanently or temporarily deform the flexible display to provide tactile feedback to a user of the device.

The display described would be sensitive to both touch and pressure … 

The concept, which was briefly rumored for the iPhone 6 earlier in the year, builds on the Force Touch technology used in the Apple Watch, which Apple describes as using “tiny electrodes around the flexible Retina display to distinguish between a light tap and a deep press.”

The difference here is that the interaction would be two-way, using tiny motors, vibrators or piezoelectric actuators beneath the display to respond to the touch with a sensation you can feel with your finger, a concept known as haptic feedback.


It’s thus possible that the patent is designed for future generations of the Apple Watch, though the same technology would be equally useful in an iPhone or iPad.

Our usual disclaimer of course applies: only a handful of the patents Apple files ever make it into production.

Via Apple Toolbox