IBM patents origami smartwatch tech

And its the craziest smart wearable concept design you’ve ever seen

Photo: LetsGoDigital

The American IT company IBM is not the one to make any of the mobile devices people carry these days - smartwatches, phones, tablets, or laptops - but that isn’t stopping the legendary computing pioneer from patenting ideas that might become viable in the future.

As spotted by Dutch publication LetsGoDigital, for example, IBM has successfully patented an “electronic display device configured for variable display size”. In other words a smartwatch that - just wait for it - physically transforms into the form a wrist-mounted smartphone and if that doesn’t blow your mind, it folds out even more to become the size of a tablet.

The drawings in the patent, which have been turned into beautiful colourful renders by LetsGoDigital, depict a smartwatch with a tall, nearly bezel-free screen that’s larger than most current devices, displaying the time atop weather details and icons for four apps. There are no edges on the body and it features a design that’s unlike anything that has been seen so far, sine below the primary display, there are seven auxiliary screens that are hidden from view, each measuring 2 x 3 inches. The real magic happens when the screen is unfolded first in a way that adds three additional screen panels of the same size to make a wearable with a display four times larger than it started out, using the extra space to display nine app icons, an internet search bar, and an expanded time and weather area. Then, this same area is folded out again to double in size, giving eight times the original screen real estate, simultaneously displaying a tablet-like array of 16 icons, a newsfeed, search bar, and time/weather information.

Even though the patent, filed three years ago, doesn’t describe exactly how this whole thing would possibly work, IBM explains that the concept is to expand the screen using “a set of slides that form a storage compartment within the housing” - capable of recognising and utilising the larger display size as additional panels slide out. This means that seperate screen panels are stored almost like a deck of cards, which slide and fold out depending on how large you want or need the screen to be. It’s even reminiscent of those space-saving IKEA tables suitable for small apartments, which cleverly unfold to seat a larger number of people. However, making those dining tables is incredibly simple compared to engineering IBM’s crazy folding smartwatch.

In short what we have is a smart wearable that uses the same concept as a folding smartphone - matching the convenience of a small device with the desirability of a large screen when you need it. Yet, Samsung has proven how difficult it is to make a folding smartphone already and Huawei is holding off releasing its own folding smartphone for a few more months as well. So, despite the fact that IBM’s watch looks highly promising, the concept is still implausible at the moment as the technology simply doesn’t exist to make it a reality. Yet, as often said "Never say never".

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