Patent report: retractable displays, language translators, Apple Pencil holders

Future iPhones and iPads — and perhaps even Macs — could have displays that fold like paper. Apple has filed for a patent (number 20170060183) for “electronic devices with retractable displays.”

In the patent filing, the company says the use of rigid display substrates can cause displays and electronic devices to be more bulky than desired. Although devices can be reduced in size by using smaller displays, this may result in viewing areas that aren’t as large as desired. Apple thinks flexible, retractable displays could be the answer.

In other patent news, future iPhones and Apple Watches could translate languages on-the-fly. Apple has been granted a patent (number 20170060853) for a “mobile device having human language translation capability with positional feedback.”

In the patent filing, Apple notes that a basic need for most people when traveling in a foreign country is human language translation. For example, you may want to ask the cab driver a question about the route he is taking, or wish to ask a salesperson about alternatives to a particular item he is presenting you. A “two-way, portable, electronic language translation device is very useful in such circumstances,” says Apple.

Such a device has a display and a keyboard that allows the user to type in a word or phrase in the user's native language. The user then presses a button on the keyboard, and the word or phrase is then translated by built-in data processing circuitry of the device into another language before being displayed. With the display showing the translated phrase, the user could then hand the device to the other party who can then read the translated phrase and then respond using the device in a reverse manner but in her own language. 

Apple has also applied for a patent (number 20170060180) for “attachment features for an accessory device” that involve an Apple Pencil holder that you could attach to an iPad or an iPhone (hmmmm, think about that) when the pencil isn’t being used.

According to the patent, the accessory device may include a retaining feature designed to hold or carry an object, such as a stylus for use with an electronic device using, for instance, a loop. Interestingly, the patent also mentions devices with a panel capable of rotating.

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.