Future Macs could have foldable screens

Imagine an iPhone with a foldable screen. But, no, let's dream bigger. Imagine a MacBook Pro with a screen that measured 13-inches when you're, for example, on an airplane. Get to your hotel room, however, and you can unfold it to 17 inches or bigger.

That's almost certainly going to happen eventually, though not in the immediate future. As far back as 2006, flexible television screens were demoed that could theoretically result in people folding up their computer and putting it in their pocket. 

Fabricating a display that can fold completely in half would offer a large screen in a small, portable form; however, so far the challenge has been to eliminate the visible crease between panels. However, a seamless foldable active matrix organic-light-emitting-diode (AMOLED) display with no visible areas has been demoed by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.

The display consists of two AMOLED panels, silicone rubber (a hyperelastic material), a protective glass cover, and a module case. The display has a very small folding radius of just 1 mm, so that one panel lies almost completely on top of the other when the display is folded at a 180 degree angle. Also, the glass cover not only prevents scratches, but can serve as a touch screen, as well. 

The researchers reportedly tested the foldable display’s mechanical and optical robustness by performing 100,000 folding-unfolding cycles, and found that the relative brightness at the junction decreased by just six percent. Since this difference is hardly recognizable by the human eye, the deterioration is considered negligible. As the researchers explained, the key to making a display with no visible crease involved controlling the optical properties of the materials. 

“All the materials in a foldable window unit (glasses and silicone rubber) must have almost the same optical properties and attach to each other strongly without any optical property change,” coauthor HongShik Shim of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. said.

Way back in 2011, UCLA researchers created a prototype of an OLED screen that easily folds and stretches enough to increase in size by 45 percent. The researchers' prototype isn't a fully functioning screen -- it just shines the color of a blue sky -- but it's proof that the major ingredients work.

In 2002 a patent (number 20030161094) was filed by an inventor named Donald Chambers at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for folding/detachable computer screens. It involves a laptop or hand-held computer comprising additional display(s) that are swung out from the main display by utilizing hinges or quick attach connections to provide additional screen space for viewing extra windows or menus. 

Chamber's invention involves hinges. However, the same concept will someday some to fruition but with foldable screens.

The creative minds at Orkin Design have conceived of a laptop that would be unlike anything else out there. The rolled-up machine — shown in a mock-up courtesy of The Web Urbanist — consists entirely of an OLED screen; when you want to use it as a laptop you simply fold up the top portion to be used as a screen. The bottom portion becomes a touch-screen keyboard.

Designer Niels Van Hoof had a vision for the modern laptop: eliminate wasted space and make the screen itself fold up to make the entire machine smaller. The screen — pictured in a mock-up, also courtesy of The Web Urbanist — would use OLED technology to let it fold in half without damaging the display.