Apple’s latest patent application reveals that the smartphone maker might finally be ready to jump onto the curved edge display bandwagon. The patent application titled ‘Methods for Forming Electronic Devices with Bent Display Edges’ gives insight into how future iPhones could incorporate OLED displays with distinctly curved edges. More specifically, the patent reveals that Apple won’t be content adding curves to only the long edges of the display, but also the top and bottom edges which have otherwise remained flat around the periphery in the smartphone world.
This fresh patent application shouldn’t be confused with a similar one published earlier this year that included a laundry list of all possible curved display implementations, with most designs bordering on the extremes. This patent, however, ditches seemingly nonsensical concepts such as banana-shaped curved displays in favour of a practical alternative with all four edges curved for good measure. More importantly, instead of throwing up wild concepts into the air, the document delves into the manufacturing process of the curved display edges. This is a good sign as any that Apple seems more serious and committed to this design path.
The curved display edges are achieved by using an elaborate set of male and female moulds that shape the flexible polymer OLED display substrate to curve along the edges. All four edges as well as the corners to be precise. This is primarily achieved by the means of heated moulds and a special polymer OLED display substrate. The patent document hints that the OLED display substrate could be specifically engineered to soften and conform easily to the mould on the application of heat, while hardening to an even more rigid state on cooling.
The patent also makes concessions for the reduced structural strength associated with a display design that curves along all four edges, which in turn leads to reduction of the frame thickness as well. The document specifies an internal support layer comprising of metal, ceramic, glass, or even plastic (engineering plastics such as POM are surprisingly strong) to prop up and bolster the otherwise fragile OLED display curved on all four sides.
The bottom edge of the display also retains the nifty trick of the iPhone X, where the OLED display is rolled onto itself with the intention of taking the display interface cables out of the way and thus eliminating the bottom bezel. The patent doesn’t go into the specifics of the chassis and instead covers all the bases by listing out every possible material from glass and metal to even plastic. The emphasis clearly lies on the curved edge design of the display and the manufacturing processes therein.
The design illustrated in this patent definitely won’t apply to the next iPhone, which is only a few short months away from launch. However, there’s a good chance that this design could be incorporated into the subsequent model. It isn’t uncommon for phone manufacturers to file such patents pertaining to manufacturing processes of a new technology with the intention of safeguarding their intellectual property long before it goes into mass outsourced production.
It also isn’t uncommon for Apple to take much longer to embrace industry trends such as OLED displays and, in this case, curved edge displays with the intention of delivering a polished design and user experience. We won’t be surprised if the next year’s iPhone showed up with curved edges along all four sides.