Apple patents a “self-healing” foldable screen

While foldable phones have had a rough start with the Samsung Galaxy Fold fiasco last year, Apple, it seems, has made steady progress with their development towards their own take on a foldable smartphone. Now, a new patent filed by the company hints that this foldable phone will come with a “self-healing” screen.

According to the patent document which was scouted by Patently Apple, the patent was first filed in January 2020 and demonstrates how a “self-healing” material that would “fill” gaps, scratches and other types of damage that are common incurred by today’s smartphones. Accordingly, a layer comprising a “self-healing” material will be added to the main display cover layer and the dielectric touchscreen layer.

The trick behind the “self-healing” properties of the screen is through the use of heat to set off the process, which uses a self-healing material inside a polymer layer in conjunction with another special material called an elastomer both of which will be interposed in different layers inside the screen.

An elastomer (short for elastic polymer) is identified as a polymer with a generally low Young’s modulus—the mechanical property that measures a solid material’s stiffness—but has a high elongation and breakpoint. This means that the material is highly capable of stretching and returning to its original form without fear of permanently tearing the material when stretched.

What’s more interesting is that the layers that contain elastomer, the dielectric material and the self-healing material all have different Young’s modulus values—the dielectric material will have the smallest Young’s modulus value while the layer of elastomer has the highest among the three layers.

Read an excerpt from the patent here:

15. The electronic device defined in claim 14, wherein the polymer layer is a self-healing polymer layer and wherein the display cover layer further comprises an adhesive layer that attaches the first and second transparent dielectric layers and the layer of elastomer to a third transparent dielectric layer.

18. The electronic device defined in claim 16, wherein the transparent conductor layer is interposed between the first and second transparent dielectric layers and the self-healing polymer layer and wherein the transparent conductor layer is interposed between the layer of elastomer and the self-healing polymer layer.

Based on these concepts alone, the use of the combination of the polymer “self-healing” layer and the elastomer layer in the display interface of the smartphone might theoretically solve the problems that the Samsung Galaxy Fold encountered during its release. During the Galaxy Fold’s initial launch last year, a number of screen displays died after a week of folding or when the protective plastic was stripped-off from the screen. This left the smartphone’s screen at a vulnerable state that allowed foreign objects to be trapped in the fold and eventually damage the screen.

Outside of the patent filing and claims, however, Apple has not said much regarding the development of their next-gen, foldable smartphones. At the recent “Time Flies” event in September, the company only showed off their Apple Watch, 8th gen iPad, iPad Air, but made no mention of a foldable smartphone. It seems like we may have to wait a couple more years before Apple officially joins in the foldable smartphone market.

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