There’s talk that Apple is working on a “foldable” (or at least bendable) iPhone for the future. A newly granted Apple patent (number 9,869,807) for “electronic devices with soft input-output components” may add credence to the rumor as it involves flexible connectors.
Apple says it can be challenging to incorporate input-output devices into an electronic device. Form factor considerations, reliability considerations, and various other factors may make it difficult or impossible for conventional input-output components to be used in certain devices. As an example, if an electronic device has bendable portions, traditional displays and touch sensors mounted in the device may be subject to stress-induced failures. Apple thinks “stretchable” connectors are part of the solution.
Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “A flexible input-output device may be formed from an elastomeric substrate layer. The substrate layer may have signal paths to which components are mounted. Openings may be formed in the elastomeric substrate layer between the signal paths to create a stretchable mesh-shaped substrate. The electrical components may each include an interposer having solder pads soldered to the elastomeric substrate.
“Electrical devices such as micro-light-emitting diodes may be soldered to the interposers. The electrical components may also include electrical devices such as sensors and actuators. A stretchable lighting unit may have a stretchable light guide illuminated by a stretchable light source.”
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.