Samsung launched its first foldable smartphones, the Galaxy Fold and the Galaxy Flip Z, in 2019 and 2020, both of which have a folding design that changes from one form to another, ushering in a new era of foldable smartphone launches.
Samsung has continued to release foldable smartphones, and other firms such as LG, Motorola, and Huawei have followed suit. As of 2022, there are several Android-based foldable smartphones on the market, but Apple has yet to release a foldable handset.
Although the technology is still in its early stages and has significant flaws, foldable smartphones are becoming popular, and reports claim that Apple is looking into foldable iPhones and other gadgets.
Foldable iPhone Rumors
Rumors of a foldable iPhone originally appeared in 2016 when it was said that LG Display will mass produce foldable screens for smartphones in 2018 and provide firms such as Apple and Google with them.
A 2017 rumour kept the folding iPhone idea alive, claiming that Apple was collaborating with LG to create an iPhone with a foldable display. LG has a variety of flexible OLED panel-based foldable display prototypes, including one that folds over like a book and another that rolls up like a newspaper.
In 2019, rumours circulated that Samsung offered to provide Apple with foldable screens, while Apple supplier Corning is working on a foldable glass solution. Corning is a current Apple supplier, and Corning’s foldable glass seems promising for a future iPhone.
Samsung is believed to be giving Apple with foldable display prototypes for a possible foldable iPhone in September 2020. Samsung is apparently giving Apple with samples for a year, implying that Apple is speeding up development of a foldable iPhone. According to recent reports, LG Display may also be engaged in the creation of a display panel for a foldable iPhone.
Ming-Chi Kuo, an Apple analyst who frequently has reliable insight into Apple’s plans, stated in 2021 that development on a foldable iPhone has not yet begun, but he has previously stated that Apple is experimenting with an 8-inch foldable iPhone with a flexible OLED display and a 9-inch foldable device, but Apple still has problems to work out. He first predicted that Apple will release a foldable iPhone in 2024, but in 2022, he altered his estimate, saying that Apple is unlikely to release a foldable iPhone until 2025 or later. Display researcher Ross Young has also predicted that a foldable iPhone would be available in 2025.
According to Kuo, the future foldable iPhone would use a silver nanowire touch technology for the gadget’s display, giving Apple a “long-term competitive edge” in the foldable device market. This display technology will be required for future foldable gadgets with more than one fold.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has begun “early development” on a foldable iPhone, although the corporation has not committed to launching a foldable gadget. Apple does not have complete foldable iPhone prototypes in its laboratories, and development has not progressed beyond a display. A foldable iPhone, like other firms’ foldable devices, would enable Apple to develop a bigger display in a pocketable form.
Apple has spoken about a variety of foldable screen sizes, including one that unfolds to a size equivalent to the 6.7-inch display on the iPhone 12 Pro Max and others in the 8 to 9-inch range. Instead of two panels separated by a visible hinge, Apple’s designs are believed to include a “largely invisible hinge” with components concealed beneath the display.
According to leaker Jon Prosser, Apple is working on a foldable iPhone prototype with two independent display panels joined by a hinge rather than a single display design like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, however this contradicts Bloomberg’s description of Apple’s display development.
According to Prosser, the foldable iPhone will have round, stainless steel edges like the iPhone 11, and while there is no notch, Apple has added a “tiny forehead” that houses Face ID. Though the prototype is two separate panels, the displays together look “fairly continuous and seamless.” It’s unclear if this prototype (or any prototype) will make it to an eventual release.
Omdia research estimates Apple would release a foldable iPhone with an OLED display in the 7.3 to 7.6-inch range with Apple Pencil functionality as soon as 2023, although this may be too soon in comparison to previous forecasts.
iPhone Foldable Prototypes
In December 2020, an Asian supply chain report stated that two of Apple’s foldable iPhone prototypes had passed internal durability testing, however this is inconsistent with claims that development is preliminary and has not advanced to a complete product.
At the Foxconn facility in Shenzhen, China, Apple was supposedly testing two distinct foldable iPhone prototypes. The first is a dual-screen variant with two independent screens joined by a hinge, while the second is a foldable iPhone with a clamshell design similar to the Galaxy Z Flip.
The test devices have been characterised as shells with restricted internals and not fully working iPhones, and it remains unclear whether or not this is a product that will Apple released.
According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is also investigating electronic paper display (EPD) technology that might be utilised in future foldable products. Color EPD displays from Chinese business E Ink might be used by Apple since they are substantially more energy efficient than other types of display technologies.
Concerns about technology and the market
According to leaker Dylandkt, Apple is testing with various foldable iPhone prototypes, although this does not necessarily imply that a foldable iPhone will be released soon.
There may be too many “compromises” in foldable display technology in its present form, since foldable screens remain pricey and sometimes unreliable due to the crease. Apple is also worried about whether foldable devices will remain trendy in the future years or become outdated.
Finally, Apple wants to ensure that a foldable design isn’t a “regression from the present form factor of the iPhone,” and the corporation looks to be waiting and seeing with foldable iPhone technology.
Patents for a Foldable iPhone
Apple patents many ideas that never become final products, so patents aren’t always a good method to anticipate what’s in development, but Apple does have a few folding iPhone patents.
In 2016, Apple filed its first patent for a foldable iPhone, detailing a smartphone that folds in half horizontally utilising a flexible OLED display and a hinged metal support system. When the phone is closed, both half of the display stay visible, and there are even illustrations of devices with numerous folds.
A 2019 patent application suggests a foldable smartphone with an integrated heating element or display heating function to reduce fold failures in low conditions, a concern that might affect foldable devices.
Apple was awarded a patent in February 2020 for a foldable gadget having a hinge mechanism that uses moveable flaps to assist prevent the display from being crumpled or damaged when folded.
The hinge mechanism is intended to keep the first and second elements of the display separate. When the gadget is unfurled, moveable flaps extend to fill the space and retract when it is folded.
An Apple patent issued in March presents a novel alternative to a foldable iPhone, describing a system that would enable two or more devices to function as one when brought near together using proximity sensors.
The invention proposes two distinct devices that, when brought together with a shared display, automatically identify one another. According to the patent’s language, Apple might construct a single bending gadget with two screens that communicate with each other in real time.
According to a 2020 patent file, Apple is investigating a crack-resistant outer layer for a foldable iPhone. The iPhone would include a hardcoat layer that would cover pre-existing micro-cracks, making it more difficult for a bigger crack to form.
The additional layer, which would be put immediately on top of the display, would be resistant to punctures and scratches.
When Will Apple Release the Foldable iPhone?
Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that the first foldable iPhone would be released in 2025 or later.
Display researcher Ross Young says Apple has postponed the release of its foldable iPhone until 2025, citing Apple’s reluctance to join the foldable market.
What Will the Design of Apple’s Foldable iPhone Look Like?
With no definitive reports of a foldable iPhone in the works, it’s unclear what shape a foldable gadget may take.
As examples, we’ve seen foldable smartphones from Samsung and Huawei that fold vertically both inside and outwards. Apple’s patents show a gadget that folds horizontally and isn’t nearly as broad as Huawei and Samsung’s models, but Apple’s patents are just hypothetical.
We won’t know what Apple’s foldable smartphone will look like until it’s farther along in development, but a prototype with two screens joined by a hinge is reportedly being worked on.
What is the competition like?
As previously stated, Samsung has released the Galaxy Fold, a $1,980 smartphone that folds in half inwards due to a concealed hinge in the centre.
In February 2020, Samsung introduced the Galaxy Z Flip, a second-generation foldable smartphone. The 6.7-inch Galaxy Z Flip smartphone splits in half to make it more compact and pocketable. It varies from the Galaxy Fold in that it begins as a smartphone and is not functional when folded, while the Galaxy Fold is a convertible device that can function as both a smartphone and a tablet when folded and unfolded.
Huawei released the Mate X, a foldable smartphone, in February 2019 for $2,600. The Mate X, unlike the Galaxy Fold, folds outwards rather than inwards, giving it a display on both sides when closed. In smartphone form, the Mate X measures 6.6 inches and expands to 8 inches.
Motorola also makes a foldable smartphone called the RAZR, which is identical to the Galaxy Z Flip. It’s styled like the classic Motorola RAZR flip phone, but with a screen that folds in half for a full-screen experience. Other smartphone firms have released foldable phones, but pricing remain expensive.
Problems with Foldable Smartphones
Samsung was forced to postpone the introduction of the Galaxy Fold after testers given one of the new gadgets discovered serious durability concerns, with displays cracking after just a few days of usage.
Samsung solved the issues with design changes that made the Galaxy Fold more sturdy and able to resist repeated folding.
Similar difficulties have been reported with the Galaxy Z Flip, including complaints regarding display quality (the Galaxy Z Flip employs flexible glass) and at least one user reporting display shattering in freezing conditions.
Motorola’s RAZR has also not fared well, with one reviewer reporting that the device’s display broke down the centre after just a week of use, with no clear cause.
Given the high price tags of foldable iPhones, their fragile nature, and their proclivity to fail, Apple may be intending to wait until the technology is more mature before launching its own folding iPhone.
Date of Publication
According to display specialist Ross Young, Apple’s foldable iPhone would most likely be postponed until 2025. Apple is claimed to be having difficulty obtaining a sufficient quantity of cover glass, which is causing the delays. As of today, it seems that a foldable iPhone will be available around 2025.
Apple’s Other Foldable Devices
Rumors say that, in addition to a foldable iPhone, Apple is investigating additional foldable gadgets, such as iPads and MacBooks with folding OLED panels.
Apple is reportedly collaborating with LG to develop ultra-thin folding cover glass for future Macs and iPads.