- A new discovery reinforces rumors that Apple is working on a foldable iPhone.
- A patent describes technology that will protect the screen from scratches and other accidental damage.
- Apple is working on a self-healing material that allows the iPhone to repair itself.
When Samsung released the first Galaxy Fold devices to reviewers, the company probably did not expect it to cancel the phone launch and return to the drawing board to fix the design. But that was exactly what happened in April 2019. Early users found faults with the screen and hinge that led to the same unwanted side effect: Screen faults. The phone was launched five months later, but the plastic screen was still a matter of concern, as it could easily be scratched and punctured. Second-generation Samsung folding devices have alleviated some of these concerns. Z Flip and Z Fold 2 both have Ultra Thin Glass screens. But the glass layer is so thin that it can crack. And it is not suitable for using the pen.
Samsung may be the leading competitor in the collapsible smartphone race, but it is not the only player. Apple has been far quieter than others, but we have seen many signs pointing to a future collapsible iPhone. Only recently reported that Apple ordered folding screens from Samsung, while a leaker claimed to have details of a folding iPhone prototype. The latest evidence comes in the form of a recently discovered document that suggests an interesting solution to prevent damage to folding screens: Self-healing screens.
The patent application was filed at the end of January, but was published on Thursday USPTO website (via 9to5Mac). Apple often files patents for innovations that can be used in future products. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the self-healing display technology proposed in the document will make it into future iPhones.
But the images and language make it clear that the technology will benefit folding screens:
An electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be bent around a bending axis. A display can span the bending axis. To facilitate bending around the bending axis without damage, the screen may comprise a screen cover layer with a flexible part. The flexible part of the screen cover layer may be located between the first and second rigid parts of the screen cover layer in one example.
This is where the self-healing powers of the screen will come in handy:
When using an electronic device, the screen cover layer of the electronic device may be scratched or dented. To improve the aesthetics of the electronic device, it may be desirable to minimize the presence of scratches and dents. To reduce the number of dents, scratches or other imperfections in a screen cover layer, the screen cover layer may comprise a layer of self-healing material.
Apple explains that the self-healing material can be placed over the entire surface of the screen, or only in the flexible area of the hinge, and apparently covers all potential use scenarios.
The company also explains how the self-healing procedure can be done:
Self-healing can occur in the layer of self-healing material without asking for it (eg, when the self-healing coating is dented, the coating material can fill the bulk even without external intervention). Alternatively, the self-healing can be initiated or accelerated by externally applied heat, light, electric current or other type of external stimulus.
Apple suggests using heat for the self-healing process, with transparent conductors that will form a heat layer in the display cover layer.
The pictures indicate that the folding screen can sit on the outside of the phone (Mate X style) or the interior (like Galaxy Folds). Apple says that the screen cover can be made of plastic, glass or other transparent material. In other words, Apple makes sure it covers all possible uses for a foldable screen.
It is unclear when or if Apple will release a foldable iPhone. But it seems that Apple will spend more time than Samsung did to ensure that the most important component of the device is taken care of.