Future iPhones, iPads could sport flexible sidewall displays

Future iPhones and iPads may see displays on their sides as well as on the touch screen. Apple has filed for a patent (number 20190278394) for “electronic devices with sidewall displays.

Bent flexible displays may be bent to form front side displays and edge displays. Edge displays could function as virtual buttons, virtual switches, or informational displays that are supplemental to front side displays. Virtual buttons may include transparent button members, lenses, haptic feedback components, audio feedback components, or other components for providing feedback to a user when virtual buttons are activated.

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In the patent filing, Apple notes that some electronic devices are provided with rigid displays made from rigid display structures. Conventional devices may also have input-output components such as buttons, microphones, speakers, and other components that receive or transmit tactile input from a user mounted on edges of the device away from the display. Tactile input components are often formed from sliding or reciprocating button members and associated electrical components such as switches. 

Flexible display technologies are available that allow displays to be flexed. For example, flexible displays may be formed using flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display technology. Apple thinks that it would be desirable to be able to use flexible display technology to provide improved electronic devices.

Here’s the summary of the patent filing: "Electronic devices may be provided that contain flexible displays that are bent to form displays on multiple surfaces of the devices. Bent flexible displays may be bent to form front side displays and edge displays. Edge displays may be separated from front side displays or from other edge displays using patterned housing members, printed or painted masks, or by selectively activating and inactivating display pixels associated with the flexible display. Edge displays may alternately function as virtual buttons, virtual switches, or informational displays that are supplemental to front side displays. Virtual buttons may include transparent button members, lenses, haptic feedback components, audio feedback components, or other components for providing feedback to a user when virtual buttons are activated.”

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.