Apple Plans to Make iPhones With 'Self-Healing' Screens

Arguably the worst thing about smartphones is their fragility. No matter how expensive your phone is, one unfortunate fumble could be all it takes to dent, scratch or smash your screen to pieces, and repairs are incredibly costly. A newly discovered patent application from Apple describes a "self-healing" iPhone screen that might one day change that.

The patent application, published by the US Patent & Trademark Office on October 1 (via Apple Insider), envisions a new type of screen arrangement capable of repairing dents, scratches and "other imperfections" all on its own.

It sounds almost too good to be true and, sure enough, the document doesn't go into a great deal of depth into how it could be achieved. However, the fact that Apple is looking into a solution for the curse of fragile screens is promising.

The patent describes a screen configuration that would comprise multiple elements, one of which would be made of an apparently self-healing material.

Frustratingly, the patent application merely says: "The self-healing layer ... may be formed from polymer or any other desired material having self-healing properties."

2013's LG G Flex 2 is the most famous example of a phone that has already incorporated "self-healing" technology. Its rear panel was capable of smoothing out scratches on its own, though the way it worked was never satisfactorily explained by the company.

"During operation of an electronic device, the display cover layer for the electronic device may be scratched or dented," Apple's patent reads.

"To improve the aesthetics of electronic device, it may be desirable for the presence of scratches and dents to be minimized. To help mitigate the number of dents, scratches, or other imperfections in a display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a layer with self-healing properties."

It continues: "The self-healing coating may be dented or scratched during operation of the electronic device. However, because of the self-healing properties of the self-healing coating, the self-healing coating may return to its original shape and the dents and scratches may be removed."

It says the healing process could happen automatically, or be triggered by heat, light or electric current. The requisite heat or light could be emitted by the phone itself. The phone's owner could also decide when to set the display to self-heal—at night, for instance, or while charging.

apple iphone mural berlin
A graphic artist paints a mural ad for smartphone manufacturer Apple, in Berlin on October 1, 2020. The company is now looking into "self-healing" screen technology. John MacDougall/Getty Images

It's an intriguing prospect, but there are too many holes in the plan for it to be worth getting truly excited over yet.

The patent's lack of specifics about what that self-healing material would be is the key piece of missing information, but it also doesn't explain how long the healing process would take, or how much damage it could recover from.

The patent also makes repeated references to a flexible smartphone that would bend at a hinge. Apple has long been rumored to be developing a folding iPhone but is yet to reveal the results of its work, while Samsung, Motorola and Huawei have all launched folding smartphones in the past year.