Every week, a handful of new patents awarded to Apple shows up online. And while we don’t cover a great deal of them, we like to pick out the interesting ones. One such patent is the new technology for creating curved touch surfaces and displays.
U.S. Patent Number 8,603,574 details a method of manufacturing a “Curved touch sensor” currently not used by other companies. The idea was to create a curved sensor without any deficiencies caused by warping and deformation of the substrate layer. It could be used for touch screens, touch pads (Magic Trackpad) or touch sensitive mice or any other device requiring touch input.
Apple – in the patent application – notes that the issue with current curved touch sensors is that the method for applying and bonding layers within the sensor requires either too much heat for the Substrate layer, or too little heat to bond the thin conductive film required for use. AppleInsider notes:
For example, when depositing thin films over a flexible substrates like plastic, the annealing, or heating, temperature must be kept relatively low to avoid structural damage. Manufacturers, however, may prefer to employ high annealing temperatures for added thin film resistiveness and enhanced optical properties.
This annealing process, when too much heat is applied, tends to warp the sensor and ends up not having a consistent, and reliable end result.
The three images above show various kinds of touch sensor. One the left we have a standard flat stackup. The center method gives the illusion of being curved by having a curved top layer of glass. In this case, the substrate layer is still flat, and can’t give a consistently accurate performance due to the curved surface on top. Apple’s patent allows for the last image which essentially has all layers curved, but manufactured in a way to ensure that there is no deformation of any layers.
It’s a pretty intriguing patent and could lead to many outcomes. Perhaps a curved trackpad or more reliable Magic Mouse. Perhaps even a curved iPhone display? Who knows. It even allows for more than one curved surface to be joined together.
Chances are, we’ll never see this technology applied in anything. After all, hundreds of exciting patents come and go without so much as a rumor of a product coming to market. It’s just sometimes good to know that Apple is still trying to innovate and give new ideas a go before deciding how to make use of them in every day products.