We've seen foldable phones released by Samsung, Motorola and Huawei and other manufacturers are working to join them. And of course, that brings up the question of whether Apple will develop a foldable iPhone. Sure, we can take guesses but the best way to see what Apple is working on is to take a look at the patent applications that the company is filing and the patents it receives. Having said that, Apple files for and receives hundreds of patents a year and not all of them are put into use.
Apple receives another patent related to a foldable iPhone
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has just awarded
Apple a patent titled "Foldable cover and display for an electronic device." Sure sounds like a patent that could be useful in the development of a foldable iPhone! According to the patent, the device would sport a flexible display layer coupled (using adhesive or some other type of bonding agent) with a cover layer. There could be three configurations possible: folded, unfolded and intermediate; the latter would have the screen folded at an angle between folded and unfolded. Apple is considering the use of sensors to turn off, disable, or put the screen into standby when the device is folded close.
Image from Apple's patent shows an inward folding iPhone
The foldable portion of the cover layer could be strengthened by chemicals and would be made of glass, sapphire or some ceramic material. As stated in the patent, the cover sheets would be used to "facilitate localized bending or flexing without producing unacceptable levels of internal stress." The cover sheet essentially protects the display and also provides it with structural support. The display itself could be an LCD, OLED, AMOLED or E Ink panel. Using accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, or other sensing devices, the orientation of the display could determine the UI that appears on the screen. Microsoft's Surface Duo
is rumored to have such a feature. Depending on how the two displays are oriented, the UI on the Duo will change.
Another illustration from Apple's patent
For example, with the two screens propped up in an inverted "V," the hinge on the Surface Duo would understand the orientation and display a UI that would feature an alarm clock. In that "tent mode," the device would be placed on a nightstand. In "laptop mode," the device is held in landscape and the screens opened at a 90-degree angle. This would automatically show a UI that features a virtual QWERTY on the bottom screen to replicate the look of a laptop computer.
Throughout 2018 and 2019, some rumors were pointing to a late 2020 unveiling of a foldable iPhone. But reliable TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has been uncharacteristically mum about such a device which leads us to conclude that a foldable iPhone might not see the light of day until late 2021 at the earliest. Meanwhile, some concept designs have been posted
on social media.