New Oppo Patent Could Make Smartphones Unbreakable; Render Protective Cases Obsolete

Future Oppo smartphones could sense falls prior to impact and automatically retract display within the chassis to improve survivability


The ease and alarming regularity at which smartphone displays tend to break is only rivalled by how consumers have resigned themselves to spending hundreds of dollars on fixing them. However, Oppo’s latest patent reveals that the company could implement some genius engineering to get around this yet unsolved problem plaguing modern smartphones. Oppo intends to prevent broken screens by retracting the display within the smartphone frame prior to an impending impact.

The rather bulky and unsightly protective cases are the only legitimate means of protection that modern bezel-less, all-display smartphones have against accidental drops and ensuing broken screens. Oppo means to improve the survivability of its smartphones without hiding their aesthetic charm behind protective cases. The patent involves using the robust metal frame of the smartphone to protect the relatively fragile display from impact during an accidental drop. The idea is to ensure that the protruding smartphone chassis will absorb the impact and prevent the dynamically recessed display from coming in harm’s way.

Retracting Display Within the Chassis Prior to a Fall

However, having the display recessed and the metal chassis protrude at all times would not only look as unsightly as the armoured cases this design seeks to render useless, but that would also be a big design and ergonomic concern in this age of screens that curve and seamlessly wrap around the smartphone chassis. The patent, however, illustrates a clever implementation that allows Oppo to allow its future unbreakable smartphones to potentially look and feel like any modern flagship device. The document details all manner of flat, 2.5D, and curved wraparound display options that won’t look out of place compared to other smartphones, while still packing an elaborate hidden mechanism that can automatically retract the display within the frame right before a catastrophic impact.

Oppo Patent Unbreakable Phone Retracted Display
Left: display is flush with the frame; Right: display is recessed into the frame for protection

While the patent doesn’t reveal the exact type of actuator Oppo plans to employ, in order to retract the display into the smartphone frame, but the term ‘driving unit’ used within the document describes a spring-loaded mechanism that can potentially be powered by anything from an electric motor (which would be rather slow, to be honest) to a solenoid, or any other fast-moving electromagnetic implementation for that matter. Most importantly, the document describes the protective actuator assembly being automatically controlled by a sensor array consisting of “gravity sensors” (most likely a combination of gyroscope and accelerometer) that measure, as Oppo puts it, “a state of weightlessness” that characterises the much dreaded, phone-destroying free fall to the floor.

New Tech Could Make Protective Cases Obsolete

Oppo’s patent application can potentially make the modern smartphone even smarter by equipping it to sense an impending drop and brace for impact by retracting the display a few millimetres within the smartphone frame. In effect, you’re now looking at a few scuffs on the phone chassis instead of an expensive broken display. While the patent document makes no mention of a similar system being employed for the rear glass panel, such a dual-sided implementation is definitely within the realm of possibility.

The patent filing also details how the display, that has been retracted to the chassis following an accidental fall, could be reset back to its original position after a pre-set delay, which (we surmise) would be the time it takes for one to spew a few choice expletives and bend down to pick up the dropped phone. While this ingenious protective mechanism definitely looks promising, the display retracting assembly could potentially increase smartphone thickness. Having said that, we are sure it would still be a fair deal thinner than any flagship smartphone clad in one of those decidedly ugly armoured cases.

Here’s the original patent document in case you want to delve deeper into Oppo’s fascinating implementation of the potentially game-changing technology.