‘Self-healing’ display could make folding iPhone invincible

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Apple filed for a ‘self-healing’ folding iPhone patent on Thursday
Of course a folding iPhone screen won‘t develop a crease. But Apple is still exploring how to make this possible.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Apple is working on a solution for the biggest drawback of folding displays. The first generation of foldable handsets made by rival companies develop a crease where the screen bends, but Apple engineers want to put a bendable display that includes a self-healing material in a folding iPhone.

The iPhone-maker filed for a patent for a possible solution on Thursday, Oct. 1. It’s titled Electronic Devices With Flexible Display Cover Layers.

The patent filing is clearly for a device with a flexible screen. It states, “an electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be flexed about a bend axis. A display may span the bend axis. To facilitate bending about the bend axis without damage, the display may include a display cover layer with a flexible portion.”

Then the description gets to the heart of the matter. “To improve the aesthetics of the electronic device, it may be desirable for the presence of scratches and dents to be minimized,” says the filing. “To help mitigate the number of dents, scratches, or other imperfections in a display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a layer of self-healing material.”

How a folding iPhone display might heal itself

Apple’s engineers consider several possibilities. One is that the material the screen is made of could be truly self healing. “When the self-healing coating is dented, the material of the coating may fill the dent even without external intervention,” the filing says.

Or the device might be able to remove the crease from its own screen. The engineers envision a material that returns to full flatness when heated. As they say in the patent filing, “When heat is used as a stimulus for the self-healing process, the display cover layer may include transparent conductors that form a heating layer in the display cover layer. The heating layer may be used to generate heat to stimulate self-healing. The heating layer may be used to generate heat in response to user input, according to a predetermined schedule, or when the electronic device is charging.”

Alternatively, the screen repair process might depend on outside help. “The self-healing may be initiated or expedited by externally applied heat, light, electric current, or other type of external stimulus,” says the filing.

The patent doesn’t get into what specific materials the display might be made of to make it capable of self healing.

Just the latest patent related to iPhone hinges

While there’s no definite proof that Apple intends to introduce a folding iPhone, it certainly keeps looking into it. Avoiding the crease is also the subject of a patent received early in 2020 for a design with an innovative hinge mechanism. It’s been exploring hinges for foldable iPhones and iPads for years. For example, it received a patent for a simpler hinge design in 2018.

Way back in 2015, it received a patent for a flexible casing for future iOS device.