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Stretchy displays could be Apple’s next innovation, new patent suggests

In context: Apple has been trailing in the foldable device race, with no concrete plans to dream up one into existence despite numerous related patent filings – even as rivals like Samsung have been in on the game for nearly half a decade. However, a new patent filing suggests that Apple may have something even more radical in mind: stretchable displays.

The patent, simply titled “Stretchable Display,” explores the concept of displays with “stretchable portions and hermetically sealed rigid pixel islands.” It essentially describes a screen that can wrap around different shapes while retaining the functioning of your average OLED panel.

And it’s not just a couple of fringe Apple engineers behind this – the patent credits an unusual 55 people, hailing from both the company’s US and Taiwan R&D hubs.

The document is light on specifics for actual products, but it does mention potential use cases across a wide range of devices – laptops, phones, tablets, wearables, automotive displays, and more. Essentially, if a screen is involved, a stretchable display could potentially enhance it.

Take the Apple Watch as an example. The patent mentions “a smaller device such as a wrist-watch device” that could benefit from this technology. A patent from last year suggested Apple was exploring the idea of a continuous, wrap-around display for a future Watch model – and a stretchable screen could achieve that.

The patent also talks up “an embedded system such as a system in which electronic equipment with a display is mounted in a kiosk or automobile so stretchable technology,” so the technology may not be limited to smaller devices if or when it arrives.

The real innovation we’ve all been waiting for, though, is a foldable iPhone. Reports suggest we’ll likely have to wait until at least 2027 before seeing an iPhone Fold or Flip materialize, giving the company plenty of time to refine and perfect the technology for implementation on such devices.

Of course, it’s still very early days. This is just a patent application, not proof of an imminent stretchable device hitting stores. Apple files thousands of wild patents annually, many of which never see the light of day as actual products. It’s an exploration of potential concepts and locking down intellectual property.

But we’ve seen the company slowly work toward more advanced screen technologies over the years, from miniLED to OLED and beyond. A stretchable display feels like the logical next frontier to bring more style and flexibility to our rigid rectangular screens.

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