Apple may have stumbled onto the future of flexible displays, according to a patent application made public by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
As noted by Engadget, Apple's patent would allow its Smart Cover to double as an additional screen. Flip it open, and have a few of your apps or notifications show up on the Smart Cover, for example.
At this point, the magnetic Smart Cover and the more recent Smart Case are used to protect and support the iPad, or put it to sleep.
The patent, titled "Cover attachment with flexible display," was filed in August 2011 and covers the formation of a "cooperative electronic system in which the electronic devices can communicate with each other."
"In one embodiment, the tablet and accessory devices can be attached to each other directly. In another embodiment, a magnetic attachment unit can be used to magnetically attach together the first and second electronic devices," Apple said. "Communication between the first and second electronic devices can occur before, during, and after the magnetic attachment is complete."
Dual displays would make tasks like viewing two or more documents much easier. The traditional 7in to 10in tablet fits documents to the screen size, but Apple's future accessory could spread them out as if reading a large book.
The patent points out that some devices, like Bluetooth headsets or keyboards, have limited interactive capabilities, but could be made better with the addition of a power source, a communications protocol, an input method, and independent storage.
A power source could take many forms, including a built-in battery within the body of the accessory, whether it is accessible by or hidden from the user. The patent also suggests the addition of a solar panel spread across the cover to cut down on battery recharging.
Active communication between the Smart Cover and an iPad could be conceived through a wireless or wired data connection, both with their own perks and drawbacks. An electrical connection through the DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort, DVI, or Thunderbolt would allow for high-speed data transfer, but a Wi-Fi protocol would mean the tablet and the case can be detached and still communicate.
In the war of the tablets, Apple may be stepping into Microsoft's Surface territory, based on Cupertino's patent, which details an incorporated flexible keyboard in the Smart Cover, used to communicate with the iPad in a similar manner to the wireless typing accessories currently available for the iDevice.
Apple's patent covers a wide range of possibilities, including electronic paper technology, the ability to position the cover flap above or below the iPad, and an AMOLED display to rival the conventional LED use.
Apple secured a patent for its existing Smart Cover in April, according to Patently Apple.