Apple have apparently been granted a US patent for ‘flexible electronic devices’ that could lead to the truly flexible iPhone becoming a reality in the foreseeable future. One of the biggest problems faced by both manufacturers and users of high-technology equipment is that if it bends it breaks, drop it and it’s dead, but Apple are addressing that problem with their usual forward-looking approach.
The patent Apple have filed in the US addresses the use of flexible materials throughout the iPhone, including use of a flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, flexible casings and batteries, and flexible printed circuit boards inside the casing that house the components that make these iPhone perform the wonders that they do. Even the components themselves could potentially be flexible – an innovation that was thought impossible in the industry a few years ago.
Potentially different methods of operation
A truly flexible iPhone would help prevent the damage that can be caused by dropping the current generation of mobiles, or by squashing them into a back pocket or other tight space, and subjecting them to squeezing and bending forces. An iPhone made of flexible materials would better absorb the energy of an impact if dropped. It’s not only the glass screen that can be damaged by such an impact; internal components are susceptible to shock too, and can cease to function even if the screen survives, so the flexible phone would ‘bounce back’ and reduce the shock on the internals of the phone. It would also better yield to even severe bending forces without damage.
Flexibility opens up a new world where totally different methods of operation could be employed. For example, you could have a simple clamshell type design that you could open by squeezing the iPhone, or maybe a squeeze on the phone body would perform certain operations such as switching on and off, or launching apps or modes of operation that are currently controlled by buttons or icons.
Looking to the future
Clever use of flexible materials could even change the shape of mobile phones into something completely different, raising the long-sought after option of having truly wearable mobile communication devices – we could even be looking at the start of implantable devices if that doesn’t feel too sci-fi. In reality, the possibilities are breath taking.
There are already smartphones available shaped in a curve, and some of the current smartphones flex to some degree, but none of these models are truly flexible to the extent that the system described in the Apple patent would be, so Apple are clearly planning to steal a march on the competition.
Sadly, as with all these forward-thinking ideas, a patent does not guarantee a product, but all the major makers appear to be interested in the flexible phone route, so Apple are up there with a chance of getting to the finish line first.