Apple may be gearing up to throw its hat in the folding device ring. Spotted by Apple Insider, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a new patent that features a sophisticated hinge mechanism for “an electronic device that uses a flexible display.” The design’s highlight is a pair of components Apple calls “movable flaps” that prevent the display from being creased when folded — a common flaw found on folding machines most manufacturers like Samsung still haven’t been able to figure out.
The movable flaps together make for a larger housing that buttresses the bendable screen. To minimize stress on the panel which is what ultimately causes creases to appear on such devices, Apple allows the screen to bow slightly outward from the center, producing a curve instead of lying flat. When the user unfolds the device, however, the flaps extend around the entire display to form a seamless surface as well as support the vulnerable middle section from underneath.
“An electronic device may have a flexible display that overlaps an axis. The display may be supported by a housing. The housing may have first and second portions that rotate relative to each other about the axis. The housing may be placed in an unfolded configuration to support the display in a planar state. The housing may also be placed in a folded configuration by rotating the first and second portions relative to each other,” explains Apple in the patent filing.
From the illustrations Apple included, it does seem far too complex and fragile. The absence of a concept video also means we can’t exactly tell how the whole setup would function.
But do note that the existence of this patent doesn’t necessarily mean Apple will launch a foldable device in the next year or two. On the contrary, the company is simply patenting an idea that could potentially fix the one complication that has primarily blighted foldable phones so far. Whenever Apple does introduce a folding device, it will likely feature an upgraded version of this.
This isn’t the first time Apple has patented tech for bendable devices either. In the past, it has trademarked designs for wrap-around displays, foldable panels which housed special flexible materials and elements to support the fold, and more.
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