iPhonePatents

Apple patent hints at an iPhone with a flexible, self-healing display

Future flexible iPhones may be built with self-healing materials.

Apple has been granted a patent (number US 11647648 B2) for “electronic devices with flexible display cover layers.” It’s one of several such patents that hints at an “iPhone Flex.”

About the patent

The Sellers Research Group (that’s me) has long been dubious that Apple plans a foldable iPhone. I think a flexible smartphone makes more sense.

The newly granted patent is for electronic devices often include displays for presenting images to a user. Displays are typically formed from rigid planar substrates. Apple says that, although satisfactory in many situations, rigid displays such as these may be difficult to integrate into certain devices, such as devices with bendable housings.

Apple’s idea is for an electronic device with 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, the display may include a display cover layer with a flexible portion. The flexible portion of the display cover layer may be interposed between first and second rigid portions of the display cover layer in one example.

However, Apple realizes that, during operation of an electronic device, a flexible screen may be scratched or dented. To help mitigate the number of dents, scratches, or other imperfections in a display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a layer of self-healing material.

The layer of self-healing material may be formed across the entire display cover layer or may be formed only in the flexible region of the display cover layer. The display cover layer may include a layer of elastomer in the flexible region of the display cover layer for increased flexibility. The layer of self-healing material may cover the layer of elastomer in the flexible region.

Apple says that self-healing may occur in the layer of self-healing material without prompting (e.g., when the self-healing coating is dented, the material of the coating may fill the dent even without external intervention). Alternatively, the self-healing may be initiated or expedited by externally applied heat, light, electric current, or other type of external stimulus.

When heat is used as a stimulus for the self-healing process, the display cover layer may include transparent conductors that form a heating layer in the display cover layer. The heating layer may be used to generate heat to stimulate self-healing. The heating layer may be used to generate heat in response to user input, according to a predetermined schedule, or when the electronic device is charging.

Finally, Apple notes that, to promote flexibility in the display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a transparent dielectric layer with slits. The slits may be filled with an index-matching material.

Summary of the patent

Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent: “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, the display may include a display cover layer with a flexible portion. The flexible portion of the display cover layer may be interposed between first and second rigid portions of the display cover layer. 

“The display cover layer may also include a layer with self-healing properties. The layer of self-healing material may be formed across the entire display cover layer or may be formed only in the flexible region of the display cover layer. The display cover layer may include a layer of elastomer in the flexible region of the display cover layer for increased flexibility. Self-healing may be initiated or expedited by externally applied heat, light, electric current, or other type of external stimulus.”

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.