Apple patent: Flexible displays that do more than bend

Company gets patent for flexible display tech that allows for layering of components like microphones or speakers -- taking screen real estate on mobile devices to the next level.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read


Apple was awarded 57 patents on Tuesday, but one flexible display item has garnered some extra attention.

Flexible displays, in and of themselves, are nothing new. What makes this patent different is that it includes support for components -- like buttons, microphones, or speakers -- that can be mounted around the display and work through it. In other words, the flexible display, which would be designed for mobile products, is both capable of being bent and acting as a pass-through device that can handle a wide range of functionalities.

Patently Apple earlier reported on the patent award.

One of the best examples of the technology, outlined in the patent itself, is how a button might work. Apple envisions people bending or in some way manipulating the screen to touch a button activator below its surface. By deforming that specific portion of the display, the activity associated with the button would be created. In another example, the flexibility of the display would create a porous layer that would allow for sound waves to pass through. Therefore, speakers and microphones and other components could sit under a screen and work as they do now.

So, why do such a thing? It all comes back to screen real estate. By placing components that are typically outside of the device and away from the screen underneath it, Apple could create a device that's either all-screen or nearly all-screen in design.

The button example is perhaps the best rationalization for the technology. Rather than having a physical button just under the screen, Apple could place a physical component beneath the display. Bending it one way or another would activate that component and show a virtual button on the screen. Pressing it would create the desired activity.

That technology stands in stark contrast to how Apple's iPhone works today. The home button on the iPhone is a physical key that lengthens the size of the device. If the flexible screen technology would come into play, Apple could have more options in design. The company could also present unique ways for users to interact with its device.

The trouble, of course, is that Apple, like other major companies, invents new technologies all the time. And while patents might provide a framework for what the company might be thinking, it doesn't mean that the technology will actually make its way to Apple products in the future.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment on the patent. We will update this story when we have more information.