You are currently viewing Forget folding screens, Apple wants stretchable ones

Forget folding screens, Apple wants stretchable ones

An iPad showing one illustration of a stretchable disolay

New research that suggests the future “iPhone Fold” could have a stretchable display on the outside, instead of one that just folds. Here’s how Apple thinks it can be done.

Apple is lagging behind other smartphone firms by not yet having an iPhone Fold, but it keeps trying — and reportedly has a couple of prototypes. What it also has, though, is a slew of other devices that could benefit from a screen that’s more flexible than usual.

But in those cases and all previous rumors, the key word has been “foldable” — and Apple could have something better. A newly-revealed patent application shows that Apple is at least thinking very deeply about a stretchable display instead.

Called just “Stretchable Display,” the patent application is credited to an unusual and even extraordinary number of inventors. Instead of the typical range of between 1 and 10 inventors, this patent application credits 55 people.

They’re chiefly based in either California or Taiwan, where Apple has a research center. They’re also remarkably concise, with the patent application having 13 images and just 22 pages.

Technical drawing showing a cross-section of a layered, mechanical structure with numbered labels and various components.

Detail from the patent application showing that the flat sections between the risen components could be flexible

What those pages concentrate on, though, are the specifics of having a display with “a stretchable portion with hermetically sealed rigid pixel islands.” The whole patent application is light on examples of how stretchable displays could be used.

There are some suggestions, starting with how Apple wants the patent to cover every type of device it can. So the patent application is for “a laptop computer… a cellular phone…” or any of more than a dozen different devices.

Among those, though, there is reference to “a smaller device such as a wrist-watch device, a pendant device, a headphone or earpiece device, a device embedded in eyeglasses or other equipment worn on a user’s head, or other wearable or miniature device.” But there are also larger displays, such as “mounted in a kiosk or automobile.”

As ever, the purpose of the patent is more to cover how something may be done, rather than what could then happen with the technology.

So this may be extrapolation, but there are use cases where a stretchable display would be of more benefit than a folding one. For instance, an iPhone fold would have a foldable screen on its inside, but a stretchable one on the outside.

But then there have long been rumors of a HomePod with a screen. The assumption is usually that the HomePod would be a squared-off design instead of its current cylinder, but Apple has already looked at a display that would effectively wrap around the device.

Similarly, this stretchable display technology might address another reported aim of Apple. In 2023, it was revealed that Apple wants to make an Apple Watch screen that wraps all the way around the wrist.

It’s important to note that at present this is only an application for a patent. Apple applies for thousands of patents every year, and not all are granted.

Plus, even when Apple is granted a patent, it is not a guarantee that we will ever see its proposals realized in a shipping product.