Apple Patent Describes Flexible Device With Rolled-Up Displays

Apple's latest patent suggests it has no shortage of ideas about how smartphones might evolve beyond flat rectangles.

What will Apple think up next? That was the question that arose shortly after Samsung launched the Galaxy S 4, a large, thin, saturated and rather laughably feature-packed device. Apple's only real rival had, it seemed, pushed every feature as far as they could imaginably go.

To increase the wow factor—the job of every new device these days—Apple will have to dream up the unimaginable, then. Which just happens to be its specialty.

Apple filed a new patent with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office March 28 for what it calls an "electronic device with [a] wrap around display." The inventor is listed as Scott A. Myers. Apple Insider first discovered the filing.

Samsung Display and Youm have shown off bendable displays, which Samsung didn't take advantage of with the S 4. But Apple's patent suggests that it may be ready to.

The patent describes a device comprised of a "transparent housing; a flexible display assembly enclosed within the transparent housing, [and] the flexible display assembly configured to present visual content at any portion of the transparent housing."

In other words, the entire "housing," front and back, would act as a screen. Apple suggests in the patent that much of smartphones essentially is underused real estate that can be optimized:

Form factor is an interesting area for development given that a large majority of portable electronic devices have settled into a standard form factor. ... Unfortunately, this popular form factor leaves the sides and rear surfaces of the device unused or at best configured with buttons and switches with fixed location and functionality. ... Therefore, there exists a need for an improved form factor for portable electronic devices [that] allows functionality to extend to more than one surface of the device.

The patent describes several "embodiments" of a device that seem to be a tube of sorts, holding flexible displays that can be taken out and unrolled.

"In one embodiment, utilizing a flexible display can provide additional viewing area without increasing either the size or shape of the electronic device," according to the patent.

It continues:

For example, a flexible display can be folded in such a way as to form a continuous loop such that images (still or video) can be presented in a wrap-around manner in which the images appear to be presented in a continuous loop. The flexible display can be folded into a tightly wound configuration and placed within an enclosure, at least a portion of which is transparent.

The tube holding the rolled displays would be made of glass, which Apple explains can be tinted a variety of colors, would be aesthetically pleasing and would allow wireless signals to pass through.

Also described is a polyimide substrate that could help to heat the AMOLED display, making it flexible enough to be configured into a number of shapes. The display, however, would remember its original shape, "even if temporarily rolled up or flattened out."

That original shape might be a rectangle or an oval or a pill shape—shapes that fit well in the hand.

The patent makes for some compelling reading and suggests that if the shine has come off the Apple, it can be buffed right back.