Apple’s self-healing screen is a glimpse at insane future-tech

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Chris Schulz

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Apple future smartphones

If rumours about Apple's self-healing phone are true, it could save consumers hundreds of dollars a year.

In August of 2017, when Samsung released its flagship Note 8 phone, I bought one on the day it came out.

When it arrived, I ripped open the package with glee and spent many hours setting it up, organising all of the apps to make them appear just right on the homepage, and trialing the new S-Pen technology.

I loved that phone more than I probably should have.

The next day, I got to work, and placed my brand new phone proudly and gently on my desk to show it off to my workmates.

Just a minute later, it slid slowly off my desk and fell onto soft, springy carpet.

It didn’t matter: the screen completely and utterly shattered. It cost me $400, plus GST, to get it fixed. I nearly cried.

Since then, I have gotten to know my local tech repairer well. I’m there regularly, walking in tentatively with a guilty grin and passing him the latest phones or tablet that I’ve broken for repair.

I’ve taken him cracked iPhones dropped by the kids. I’ve taken him shattered iPads dropped by the adults. I managed to smash one phone, supposedly secure in my pocket, when I brushed past a kitchen bench.

I even had to take my Note 8 back when it fell out of my pocket while getting out of the car, shattering the back panel so badly I got glass splinters using it.

Fixing all this tech has cost me many hundreds of dollars. At this point, I’m probably funding first-year university fees for the repair shop owner’s kids.

He’s a nice guy, so I don’t mind, but the point is this: shattered screens are bankrupting me.

It’s not so bad if you don’t mind using older tech. A shattered iPhone 6 screen will cost you roughly $60 to get repaired these days.

If you like your toys shiny and new, however, it’s a different story.

A Samsung S20 will cost you around $250 for a new screen. An iPhone Pro Max will set you back more than $600. A Galaxy Fold is $1200.

The newer the phone model, the more expensive it is to repair it.

It’s the reason I’m reluctant to shell out to upgrade to a Samsung Note20 right now: if I drop it, the screen replacement fee will break me.

Judging by the amount of people I see shattering their phones, those fix-it fees are breaking others as well.

Which is why this rumour, about Apple developing a self-healing screen, is an absolute Godsend.

According to Patently Apple, the Californian phone giant is attempting to patent a foldable phone that can recognise when it’s been damaged, and just go ahead and heal itself.

“Self-healing may be initiated or expedited by externally applied heat, light, electric current, or other type of external stimulus,” Patently Apple reports.

“To help mitigate the number of dents, scratches, or other imperfections in a display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a layer of self-healing material.”

Okay, that sounds a lot like gibberish, but the underlying message is this: Apple thinks it can include a layer underneath the screen of a foldable phone that can heal any damage you do to it.

Really? This could be something Apple’s doing just to spark some buzz. It could be trying to freak its competitors out. We don’t know if this is really  possible. We don’t know if it’s true.

We have, of course, been here before. The Verge reminded everyone that in 2013, LG released the G Flex phone with a rear cover that purportedly could recover from any scratches and scrapes you gave it.

The website also reminded everyone that it didn’t work, with a reviewer saying the only thing the phone could repair was minor “paper cuts”. In other words, it was useless.

Apple, though, is different. Apple is the one everyone looks to for initiatives. It needs something big. It disappointed everyone by failing to release a new iPhone last month. Its TV streaming service is hit and miss.

Apple recently rebranded all its radio stations, and the only question anyone asked was, ‘Why bother?’

A self-healing phone is huge. It’s a gamechanger. It’s the move Apple needs to make, the giant leap forward that means we’ll all be using phones from future-focused tech movies like Iron Man or Minority Report.

Imagine dropping and shattering your phone, shrugging your shoulders, plugging it in to charge and the super clever thing just goes ahead and repairs all the damage itself. Next time you pick it up, voila, just like new.

No splinters in your fingers, no deciphering text messages through cracked glass, no need for expensive phone covers, no whopping repair costs, just a phone that does the job it’s supposed to do. Always.

Now that’s a future I can get behind.

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Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz has 20 years experience writing about New Zealand's technology and entertainment industries. He lives in Auckland.

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