Apple has applied for a patent for a new type of device which offers a very old configuration – a scroll.
The application describes a mobile device consisting of two cylinders which can be pulled apart to reveal a flexible OLED screen. The document indicates that the two cylinders may be held together by magnets when the device is in repose, and that the device is likely to feature support struts to render a flexible OLED ‘scroll screen’ relatively rigid in use.
The patent itself is exhaustive in its determination to anticipate any possible rival ‘twist’ on the idea, stating a wide variety of possible materials for manufacture, including fibre composite, ceramics, and milled aluminium (the current choice for iPhone and iPad manufacture).
Since each of the extended cylinders is mooted to contain a camera, the unusual distance between them at full extension promises unusual effectiveness in capturing 3D images and participating in 3D VR scenarios.
Considering the current state of the art of flexible (presumably) transparent OLED screens, the patent seems protective and speculative at the moment – the more so as touch capability is anticipated for Apple’s scroll device. The technology exists, but not yet at the form factor which the Apple patent describes.
In 2013 Samsung began producing a 5.7″ full-HD OLED flexible screen with a thickness of only 0.12mm, but without touch capability – technology which later emerged in the form of a 105-inch ultra HD TV. Just over a year ago LG also unveiled an 18-inch OLED screen that can be rolled into a scroll:
Flexible electronics company Polyera has been working on small form-factor displays since 2006, initially developed for TFT and later OLED.
Universal Display Corporation is also doing advanced work with motile OLED screens, though also primarily working on larger formats such as newspaper-sized readers and monitors.
The company making the most advanced claims about flexible touch-enabled OLED surfaces specifically for portable devices is Canatu, although the transitional state of its websites offers no current information on potential to-market products.
In 2011 Samsung displayed a prototype mobile device with the kind of flexible display the Apple patent envisages, but apparently without touch control: