Dropping your precious iPhone is a heart-stopping moment that can end up in a shattered screen and plenty of tears, but Apple has now invented retractable bumpers that automatically activate when it senses a fall. The system is another of the company's famous patents and details a hidden bumper mechanism that extends outwards over the screen to absorb any impact when the phone is dropped.

The patent application titled "Active screen protection for electronic device" shows multiple bumpers or 'tabs' located in each corner of the display made from either 'flexible plastics', 'polymers' or 'thin metals' that will pop out or curl upwards over the screen when the phone's accelerometer, gyroscope or altitude sensor detects an act of butter fingers.

iPhone retractable bumper patent
The pain of smashing your iPhone may be no more thanks to built-in, impact-absorbing bumpers that can extend when it senses a fall USPTO

Apple also notes the iPhone's cameras and audio system could be used to trigger the preventative mechanism with motion-capture software keeping an eye on fast-approaching proximity or an ultrasonic pulse being emitted to identify changes in height and speed.

After the impact has (hopefully) been absorbed the iPhone will check its sensors or use a preset timer to make sure the event is over and retract the bumpers 'flush to the unit' using built-in mini motors.

iPhone retractable bumper patent
Mini motors unfurl tiny tabs made from plastic or thin metal USPTO

Despite the latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus using improved Corning Gorilla Glass as well as a tougher Series 7000 Aluminium chassis, the handset's screen is the weakest part and is prone to shattering when it takes a bad fall. However, don't breathe a sigh of relief yet clumsy folk because this is only a patent – there's no guarantee Apple will ever put this into production, rather it has filed to the US Patent and Trademark Office as a safeguard against anyone else nabbing their idea.

iPhone retractable bumper patent
Take that! With Apple\'s idea of retractable tabs screen-killing drops may be a thing of the past USPTO

The quest for a screen-saving mechanism has been sought after ever since glass-fronted touchscreens arrived on smartphones. While Apple's solution might not see the light of day it is a neat one and is certainly less clunky than Honda's design of built-in multiple airbags that inflate as soon as it senses a phone is on course for a collision.

smartphone airbag

Other than being officially fully waterproof we cannot think of a better feature to have on a device that can cost up to £789 (iPhone 6s Plus, 128GB) – at least we wouldn't have to wince and brace ourselves each time we pick it up after a fall.