Dell's Been Thinking About Foldable Displays Since at Least 2016

It's starting to look like foldable devices will become mainstream sooner than later. Microsoft's reportedly working on a version of Windows for such products, Samsung is trumpeting its foldable smartphone, and now it's become apparent that Dell started patenting technologies related to foldable displays months ago.

Windows Latest did a bit of digital spelunking down the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and discovered a patent entitled "Flexible Information Handling System Display User Interface Configuration and Provisioning" (clearly nobody from the marketing team had a say in the matter). Dell applied for the patent in January 2017; the USPTO published it in July 2018. It just went unnoticed widely because A) most people probably didn't care all that much about foldable display-related tech until a few months ago, and B) while Dell makes good products, it doesn't have a cult following like some other tech companies.

When most people think of foldable displays they probably think of a sheet of notebook paper. Dell's tech more closely resembles paper towels--or, less charitably, toilet paper--in that it's composed of several panes that each feature their own display. This enables a variety of configuration options. In the documentation, the most familiar-feeling option is using the device in a clamshell mode (like a laptop). It even has what looks like one of the world's worst keyboards. But it can also be used in "three-fold" and "four-fold" configurations that effectively turn the device into three or four separate devices connected by hinges.

We'll admit, it's hard for us to imagine scenarios in which such a device would be useful. The first thing that came to mind is replacing those horrible tablets chain restaurants put on  tables to give people a screen to stare at. Now there could be three (or four) of those screens!

But that isn't the point of this patent. Dell might never develop a product based on this technology. Companies patent things they don't plan to use--or whose patents they don't plan to enforce--regularly. The point is that Dell has been thinking about foldable displays since at least 2016; now the rest of us are starting to catch up to the future it saw.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • husker
    Based on what I see here, there may be some confusion between a truly foldable display, and separate displays connected by hinges.
  • firefoxx04
    Did anyone proof read the title? "Dell's" should be "Dell has been thinking...". At least write correctly if you are going to slam auto playing videos down our throats.