Apple's patents should never really be taken as proof of upcoming product announcements, but they're always a fun way to get your mind thinking about what could be. Take this latest one, for example: officially granted today, the patent for a "cover attachment with flexible display" imagines a futuristic iPad cover with its own display spread across the folding panels. This could be used for any number of things, according to Apple's drawings.
The panels could display various notifications or reminders, or transform into media controls when a movie is being played on the tablet. Apple's patent application notes that AMOLED screens would be ideal here, since they can light up individual pixels and leave the rest turned off, conserving battery. Another image shows the cover serving as a Wacom-style drawing pad. That seems a little redundant with the sophisticated accuracy that's been enabled by the Apple Pencil and screen technology in recent iPads, but it's still a neat idea all the same.
Other interpretations of the idea are more modest, like your everyday smart cover with a small rectangular screen for notifications.
You'd need to supply power to a cover of this type, obviously, and Apple's got a couple ideas there; one picture shows it attached to something resembling the iPad Pro's smart connector. The cover would have its own small battery inside, so you'd actually be able to detach it and continue reading whatever's on the display (i.e. a document). Yes, in some ways the end result here is something that at least kind of resembles Microsoft's abandoned Courier project. To that end, Microsoft has come up with some pretty wild covers for the tablet that it does make.
Another image of Apple's cover features built-in solar panels for power, which doesn't really seem that implausible in an Apple product.
Apple first filed for the "cover attachment with flexible display" back in 2011, and we're still not quite at the point where this could be a realistic consumer product. Can you imagine how much it would cost? But again, some things seen in these drawings — like the smart connector and a stylus — are now real. So, maybe in the future, a product like this will replace the Smart Keyboard of today.