New iPhone Patents Reveal Apple’s Foldable Plans


Foldable iPhone concept from YouTube channel Everything Apple Pro.

Everything Apple Pro

New patents have been published today which detail potential plans for future Apple foldable devices.

The patent, spotted by Patently Apple, appears to detail a possible book-shaped style foldable iPhone – similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold – that has multiple display layers and an innovative new hinge.

“In a configuration with two display panels, a first of the two panels may form a rigid display in area 14A and a second of the two display panels may form a rigid display in area 14C. In flexible area 14B, the display structures that form the two display panels may be omitted and the overlapping display cover layer for display 14 may be provided with grooves or other structures to facilitate bending.”

A drawing of how Apple’s foldable phone hinge system could work.

Apple

This could mean either the flexible area of the device is a different material that’s easier to bend than the main display panels, which may be rigid glass (or perhaps something similar to Samsung’s ultra thin glass). Or Apple is considering a two-screened device with a non-display hinge in the middle, similar to Microsoft’s Surface Duo. The patent specifically references “display layers” over the flexible area, so it’s more likely to be the former.

Elsewhere, the patent also details a display that can be both flexed inwards and outwards.  “Device 10 may have hinges that allow outward bending of the type shown in FIG. 3, that allow inward bending of the type shown in FIG. 4, or that allow bending of both the type shown in FIG. 3 and the type shown in FIG. 4”.

Apple’s future iPhone could fold inwards or outwards.

Apple

A published patent doesn’t necessarily mean that a device will make it to market, but it does show that Apple is actively working on foldable technology. This patent looks more like devices that are currently available from rivals and therefore a more realistic possibility, which is less the case for last year’s heated display patent or last month’s all glass iPhone patent.

Another Apple patent, published today , depicts a device with a rollable display shows that Apple’s current concern – and focus – is on solving problematic foldable phone hinges.

“A flexible display may be wrapped around one or more rollers. In a stored position, the flexible display may be wrapped around a storage roller. Optional deployment rollers may be used to help deploy the display as the display is pulled out of the housing” the patent explains.

Such a device would be a huge departure from its traditional design principles for Apple, which isn’t exactly known for suddenly embracing new form factors when it comes to its smartphones. As I say, these patents may never become a reality – or some aspects of them may make it into future devices.

But it’s clear Apple isn’t planning to let Samsung, Huawei and Motorola corner foldable devices. When the Cupertino-based company does eventually enter the foldable market, it may well have found a solution to an on-going problem with flexible display hinges if these patents are anything to go by.


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