A folding iPhone patent application shows how Apple might solve one of the problems posed by a foldable display.

The application was published at a time when several Android manufacturers have announced folding smartphones, and there’s much speculation about Apple’s plans …

One of the big challenges faced when designing a foldable display is preventing damage when the screen is repeatedly folded and unfolded. Apple’s patent application implies that this is a particular problem when the display is cold, and therefore less flexible. The patent suggests that heating this portion of the screen would reduce the risk.

Electronic devices often include displays for presenting images to a user. Displays are typically formed from rigid planar substrates. Although satisfactory in many situations, rigid displays such as these may be difficult to integrate into certain devices, such as devices with bendable housings.

An electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be flexed about a bend axis. A display may span the bend axis. To facilitate bending about the bend axis without damage when the display is cold, a portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be selectively heated.

A temperature sensor in the device may make temperature measurements on the portion of the display overlapping the bend axis. The device may also have user input devices for gathering user input and a motion sensor for determining when the device has been picked up for use.

In other words, it would only heat the display when the phone detects that it is in use or has been picked up and is therefore likely to be folded or unfolded.

The folding iPhone patent application describes two possible ways to apply heating.

The portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be self-heated by illuminating pixels in the portion of the display that overlap the bend axis or may be heated using a heating element or other heating structure that provides heat to the portion of the display overlapping the bend axis.

The first idea – presumably applying maximum brightness to the area of the screen that bends – would be particularly efficient, requiring no additional hardware.

The patent acknowledges that the heating may not be fast enough on occasion, and that the phone may need to force users to wait until it is safe to fold.

Control circuitry may engage a latching mechanism that prevents folding of the electronic device and the display when the temperature of the portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis is below a predetermined temperature.

As always, the fact that Apple has applied for a folding iPhone patent doesn’t mean it will ever make one, but it does seem to me to be a logical development once Apple can make it a good experience. We’ve seen some concept images, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says that he really wants one.

Via Patently Apple

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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