The flexible interface technology Nokia reportedly wants to patent could potentially be applied to not just smartphones but also laptops, PDAs, e-readers and other mobile devices. Folding a device could serve numerous functions, such as answering a call and blocking wind from the mouthpiece.
Flexible form factors such as laptops
that can be adjusted into tablet PCs are nothing new. But a flexible
display interface is quite another thing, and it appears from a patent
application that Nokia is working on just such a display interface.
On Jan. 14, Nokia filed a patent for a flexible interface with the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office, Go Rumors reported.
The technology is described in the patent abstract as a "user
interface including a flexible display configured to display graphical objects
and a controller configured to detect a first bend and determine a resulting
first foldline, determine a graphical object being intersected by the first
foldline and execute a function associated with the graphical object."
Associated images show a plane folded end-to-end, in a shape like a soup
can; another image is bent lengthwise into a C with its open face up and labeled
a bowl. Another image, labeled "tent/roof," is similarly bent but
with its open side facing down.
The idea is that not only would a smartphone be able to bend into these
shapes-and, for example, be worn on a cuff-but, also, folding the device in a
certain way or specifically positioning the device would convey to it certain
instructions, such as to place a call or perform a particular search.
"A user can thus answer an incoming call simply by rolling the phone
700 or bending it into a position where it rests in a hand. This is an action
that is highly intuitive to use," states the patent.
It continues farther on, "Bending the phone from top to bottom in this
manner to accept a call has an additional advantage in that the phone 700
itself acts as a shield for the earphone 702 and a microphone (not shown), thus
shielding the environment from the sound from the earphone and shielding the
microphone from surrounding noise."
The technology, the patent states, could additionally be applied to "portable
electronic devices such as laptops, PDAs, mobile communication terminals,
electronic books and notepads, and other electronic devices offering access to
Nokia pointed out that this technology is unlike current liquid crystal
displays, which can be rotated on their axes, but not deformed, and is different
from earlier proposed ideas.
"Prior art demonstrates the value of incorporating the deformation of
computing objects for use as input for computer processes," the patent
states. "However, in this document, we propose methods for interacting
with flexible displays that rely on deformations of the surface structure of
the display itself."
Nokia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Such an innovation could be a boon to the phone maker, which has struggled
against falling market share in recent quarters. In a Nov. 11 report, Strategy
Analytics wrote that Apple
had surpassed Nokia as the world's most profitable handset vendor.
"Apple overtook Nokia for the first time, which recorded a low $1.1
billion of operating profit. With strong volume, high wholesale prices and
tight cost controls, the PC vendor has successfully broken into the mobile
phone market in just two years," Alex Spektor, an analyst with Strategy
Analytics, wrote in the report.
Conversely, on Oct. 13 Nokia
entered the PC space with the introduction of the Booklet 3G.
The competition between Apple and Nokia has also spilled into the legal
arena, with each accusing the other of patent infringement. While the two have
logged multiple complaints, their patent issues have yet to land them together
in a courtroom. Analysts have said it seems at this point unlikely that the two
companies will eventually face off in a court trial.
Michelle Maisto has been covering the enterprise mobility space for a decade, beginning with Knowledge Management, Field Force Automation and eCRM, and most recently as the editor-in-chief of Mobile Enterprise magazine. She earned an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, and in her spare time obsesses about food. Her first book, The Gastronomy of Marriage, if forthcoming from Random House in September 2009.