Apple Patents In-Screen Speakers, Flexible Displays And Tactile Keyboards For Future iPhones And iPads

Apple has published a new patent today, one that takes the possibilities for future iOS mobile devices and adds a whole heap of abilities seemingly ripped from sci-fi thanks to flexible display technology. Some of this we’ve seen before: tactile keyboards that essentially rise up to meet your fingers have long been a theoretically possible addition to screens, and there’s been talk of Apple using them in the past. But a display that’s also a built-in surround sound system? That’s new.

The patent, uncovered by Unwired View, describes displays that could be either concave or convex, allowing for the kind of design Google provided in its Nexus S smartphone, but physical changes are just the tip of the iceberg. Moving to a flexible display provided the opportunity to build in tech that leverages it to accomplish some neat tricks, including a keyboard that detects fingers and provides physical resistance to mimic a hardware one (where would RIM be if Apple ever got this out the door); laser microphones that can register sound without requiring an actual opening on the device case; and  speakers that can be individually programmed to operate as tweeters, woofers and more, integrated into the screen itself.

As mentioned, flexible displays and the benefits they provide have been talked about for a long time. LG demoed flexible digital newspapers in 2010, and announced earlier this year that it would be deploying them soon in Europe and elsewhere. Samsung is reportedly gearing up to bring them to smartphones as early as next year, but at this point that’s still primarily a best guess and likely to be subject to further delays.

All of which adds up to very little likelihood that you’ll see this kind of tech in your next iPhone or iPad. But the things flexible screens enables, specifically a reduction in the number of holes, ports and other breaks in the external casing of mobile devices, are perfectly in line with Apple’s gadget design strategy, so look for them to use this kind of thing as soon as it makes economic sense to do so.