It appears that the next generation of smart device form factors will include dual displays that will be both flexible and foldable. These new form factors will create very powerful hybrid devices that will truly function as highly advanced video-conferencing smartphones and higher end e-Books. The new devices will give new meaning to multi-tasking as users will be able to video conference using one display while taking notes or juggling a work app on the flipside display simultaneously. Powerful new trends usually start with a flurry of intellectual property activity as companies seek to protect their latest and greatest ideas for future devices and services from being copied. One of the most powerful trends that we see emerging at the ground level today involves dual display smartphones and e-Books. The new form factors will create killer hybrid device categories that will drive new service and application opportunities for savvy developers. In today's report we take a look at new patent filings from Microsoft, Samsung and Sony regarding their respective next generation dual display device form factors. Specifically, each company is focusing on how they could best provide these next-generational devices with a reliable book-like spine that could be a make-it or break-it feature for these next-gen devices.
Two Microsoft Patents Cover Flexible Display Portables
Two Microsoft patents published by the US Patent Office last week described next generation Surface mobile devices. These particular patents focus on designing new portables that will take advantage of dual flex displays.
In the first patent application, Microsoft states that current dual flexible display portables are susceptible to damage form environmental factors when they're folded. Microsoft's solution for this problem is designing what they call a "flexible display overcenter assembly."
Microsoft's patent FIGS 1 & 2 illustrate examples of a flexible display overcenter assembly.
While Microsoft reserves the right to use LCD displays in their next generation dual display computers covering handheld computers, smartphones, gaming devices, televisions and/or tablets, they make a case for integrating OLED displays instead. According to Microsoft, flexible OLED displays self-emit light without the need for a flexible backlight. This would help to keep the dual display based device designs thinner than they would otherwise be if LCDs were adopted. The good news is that the next generation of OLED displays are already in the works that will provide even better lighting.
In Microsoft's second patent, they present us with patent FIGS. 5 and 6 which we present to you below. In these particular patent figures we're shown an alternative dual display device spine design using what Microsoft describes as a "flexible display flexure assembly."
Samsung Continues their Work on Multi-Display Portables
In late September LG Display sued Samsung over OLED display technology. Then in November, Samsung sued LG seeking to invalidate their OLED patents. Yes, beyond the Apple-Samsung wars over iDevice related patents, Samsung is being very aggressive going after LG's OLED patents. That war could become much larger and nastier over the next few years as flexible display based products begin to roll out into the marketplace.
All of the patent applications presented in our report involving multiple flex-display products clearly demonstrate that some of the top tech industry players are racing to find the next great trend in portable devices. While slapping two displays together to create a dual-display smartphone, e-Book or portable TV sounds simple enough to pull off – it's not where the challenge in manufacturing appears to be. The challenge is in creating the perfect book-like spine that will allow the two displays to easily and fluidly open and close. In the last year alone there have been dozens of patents on just this aspect of future dual-display devices.
Below are just a few reports that we've presented this year that discuss dual display units and spine mechanisms.
Samsung's most recent patent on flexible display devices builds on some of their earlier concepts and design principles that were first presented in our June report titled "Samsung's Killer Smartphone Continues to Advance." Samsung's latest invention focuses on future dual display devices being able to run differing apps on each of the two displays while also allowing certain types of apps to run continuously on both displays simultaneously such as movies, video games or TV shows.
To review the details of this invention, see patent application 20120306782
Sony Seeks to Jump on the Dual Display Device Trend Early On
As you already know, Sony is in the e-Book market today with its Reader eBook product. The Verge reviewed the Sony's Reader PRS-T2 in September and gave it a struggling 7 out of 10. But a spiffy new dual-display e-Book design just might catapult Sony's Reader ahead of Amazon's Kindle. But that's a big if and that's assuming that Sony could get the jump on Amazon on this emerging trend that may see the light of day in the next few years.
The US Patent Office published a new Sony patent application on November twenty-ninth that relates to a new ebook design. To be honest, it's a wild and very elaborate multiple page e-book design with no known market equivalent.
Sony's patent application isn't an easy read. You never really get a sense that you understand what they're doing. You never understand how many pages will be available in such a device or how you'll be able to add pages that are really displays. They jump to scholarly texts, novels and essays while attempting to define display pages that may or may not equal the number of content pages.
As illustrated above, Sony's patent FIG. 1 (c) shows an example of a page updating button 7 that will be available at the upper surface side of the book spine 5. The page updating button is a manipulator which is manipulated by a user when the user desires to display the content pages equal to or larger than the number of display pages.
If you have the time and interest in drilling down into this patent about Sony's futuristic ebook, then check out patent application 20120304053. The patent was originally filed in Japan in December 2010 and in the US in August 2012. The filing was published by the US Patent Office on November 29, 2012.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day it's clear that flexible displays will be coming to market over the next few years. Rumors have pegged the timing to be as early as H1 2013. Yet other sources have stated that this rumored time frame is premature. More importantly, Samsung's JK Shin, president and head of IT and mobile communications division in Galaxy products has recently gone on record stating that he had "often heard such rumors. However, there is a long way to go before flexible display manufacturing technology matures."
Samsung's first smartphone prototype that incorporated two foldable displays was presented at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) back in January 2009. By Samsung's own account, the device was to be in the marketplace sometime in 2010. It appears that Samsung's hyped vaporware remains on the drawing table.
The video of Samsung's prototype was presented in both our 2010 and 2011 reports. And while the concept of a dual display device is a very cool one, the fact is that one produced today would likely look more like a mini-brick in both in thickness and weight. At best it would end up being a niche product.
Yet like most cool ideas that first emerge from patent filings published by the US Patent Office, it's going to take a little time to work these concepts through to a finished product. Though as one who covered the evolution of the iPhone and iPad in patent form way before they ever came to market, I can say that the recent explosion of flexible display and dual display device patents are starting to form a powerful trend worth noting.
At the moment, the one area that most tech companies are struggling with is in the area of design revolves around the mechanism that makes up the device's book-like spine. Every type of hinge ever dreamed of is being put to the test.
Future dual flex-display smartphones and e-Books will definitely be form factors that will appeal to most consumers. It could very well end up being the ultimate smartphone-mini-tablet portable design to date. The catch of course is that the combined product has to be as thin as today's single display devices. This is why these devices won't fly off-the-shelf until they could get the form factor, weight and thinness just right. Yet with a little patience, these devices will be coming to market without a doubt and I can't wait for this next wave to arrive myself.
What are your thoughts on such form factors and who do you see as being the leaders in this next wave of dual-display devices?
NOTICE: The Patent Bolt blog presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. About Comments: Patent Bolt reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
A new report out this morning titled "Samsung Galaxy Note III to have a 6.3" Screen" also reports that the next generation Samsung Galaxy S IV will sport a new display that is unbreakable, and more importantly in context with this report, bendable. This is defintely a positive move towards kick-starting the flexible display revolution.