The ‘foldable iPhone’ could actually be a flexible iPad minion March 18, 2024 at 12:58 Tech Advisor

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Will Apple make a foldable iPhone? This is quite likely, as foldables simply look to be the future of smartphones.

The likes of Samsung, Google, OnePlus, Motorola and Honor have all made foldable devices. In fact, Apple is the only one of the major manufacturers not to have made a version.

Whether Apple goes for the book-style foldable (where a phone-sized cover display opens to reveal a small tablet) or modern interpretation of a flip phone, there’d surely be a lot of interest.

And the latest rumours suggest one is on the way, even if we might be waiting a while for it.

When will the foldable iPhone be released?

According to a February 2024 report from The Information, Apple has no plans to release a foldable iPhone until at least 2026.

A month later, well-known leaker Revegnus posted what is supposedly a leaked roadmap from Samsung Securities, a subsidiary of the Korean giant:

Apple’s next product roadmap

Source: Samsung securities pic.twitter.com/n3TT7W9vqE

— Revegnus (@Tech_Reve) March 16, 2024

A couple of days before that, Ming-soon Kan, Senior Researcher at research company Omdia, stated that 2027 is the current prediction.

In February 2024, Weibo blogger Fixed Focus Digital claimed that Apple halted foldable iPhone development due to display supplier issues, with panels from Samsung reportedly failing to meet standards. However, the accuracy of this information remains uncertain as the source lacks a reliable track record for rumours.

However, will it actually ever arrive? Jon Prosser at FPT on YouTube believes that all Apple’s foldable projects have been cancelled, at least for the time being. If you were holding out for one, you could be waiting a while.

Jason Cross / Foundry

How much will the foldable iPhone cost?

That’s almost impossible to answer. It depends when Apple releases it, how much foldables cost by then, and what kind of device the company wants to make.

However, the rumours below suggest it’ll have more in common with a book-style device, where a normal-sized cover screen opens to reveal a small tablet.

In general, these are much more expensive than flip phones. At launch, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 cost $1,799.99/£1,748, Google Pixel Fold at $1,799/£1,749 and the Honor Magic V2 £1,699.99/€1999.90. Prices will hopefully have gone down by the time Apple releases a foldable, though it will surely want to market it as an ultra-premium device.

If Apple surprises us and releases a flip phone first, it might be roughly in line with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 (from $999.99/£1,049) and Motorola Razr 40 Ultra/Razr+ 2023 (from $999/£1,049).

David Price / Foundry

Could Apple’s first foldable be an iPad?

Most rumours of an Apple foldable focus on it being an interpretation of the iPhone, but what if the company based it on the iPad instead?

That’s what research company CSS Insight said back in 2022 (via CNBC), though the suggested 2024 release date appears to be wide of the mark.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Its annual predictions report said that Apple would be keen to avoid any issues with a folding phone, so would prefer to experiment with a folding iPad first, though there was no insight into what this folding iPad might look like.

CCS Insight’s Chief of Research Ben Wood said to CNBC that a foldable iPhone could risk cannibalising sales of the conventional iPhone, and that Apple would need to price the foldable iPhone at a minimum of $2,500 so that it clearly surpasses the top-end iPhone Pro Max model.

In January 2023 Ming-Chi Kuo backed up that prediction, reporting on X (formerly Twitter) that there will be an “all-new design foldable iPad” launching in 2024 or 2025. The only detail he shared is that Anjie Technology will manufacture a carbon fibre kickstand for the tablet, which is intended to be lighter and more durable than current options.

(3/3)
Anjie Technology will be the new beneficiary of the all-new design foldable iPad. There may be no new iPad releases in the next 9-12 months as the iPad mini refresh is more likely to begin mass production in 1Q24.

— 郭明錤 (Ming-Chi Kuo) (@mingchikuo) January 30, 2023

Analysts from Omdia (via Revegnus on X), believe that the foldable device will be positioned within the iPad mini category.

Apple Under-Panel Displays & Foldables News (by Omdia)

Omdia’s Senior Researcher Min-soo Kang stated, “Apple has been pursuing differentiation in display design by changing the iPhone notch to a dynamic island screen and thinning the bezels.” He added, “However, the development…

— Revegnus (@Tech_Reve) March 14, 2024

Omdia Senior Researcher Min-soo Kang mentioned that the foldable iPhone will likely be similar in size to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, featuring a 7.6-inch main screen and a 6.2-inch cover display when folded.

A 2021 prediction from EqualOcean, a Canada-based investment research firm, also suggests that Apple is working on a single-display foldable, but one that could resemble the iPad mini when unfolded. The firm predicts that Apple will launch a foldable iPhone with a screen size of between 7.3- and 7.6 inches when unfolded, and that it’d be compatible with the Apple Pencil too – much like the latest Galaxy Z Fold phones support Samsung’s S Pen.

Competing analyst Ming-Chi Kuo details a possibly slightly larger 8-inch unfolded display in his May 2021 prediction. In fact, Kuo goes a step further than simply mentioning size, suggesting it’ll have an 8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display, and claims that it’ll feature TPK’s silver nanowire touch solution used in the HomePod Mini “because of its several advantages over SDC’s Y-Octa technology”. 

Kuo believes that the latter could create a “long term competitive advantage” for Apple in the foldable market, as it’s the “superior” option for future devices that feature multiple folds, rollable form factors, and more. 

What will the foldable iPhone or iPad look like?

While many assume that Apple would go down the same route as other popular book-style foldables – such as Galaxy Z Fold 5, Google Pixel Fold or OnePlus Open – producing a foldable iPhone that folds down the middle like a book, current rumours detail several different possibilities.

With prevalent issues around durability, the noticeable crease in foldable displays, and the overall quality of the finish, one of Apple’s prototypes might actually make more sense. 

Jim Martin / Foundry

In a series of June 2020 posts, Jon Prosser suggested that the foldable iPhone may not be comprised of a single flexible display. Instead, the leaker claims that one ‘foldable’ iPhone prototype is comprised of two separate displays, connected by a central hinge – presumably a little like the Microsoft Surface Duo 2.

With all the issues surrounding durability and cost of flexible display tech, that could be a smart alternative.

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

However, a Bloomberg report from early 2021 suggests Apple has developed a prototype foldable display that, like the foldables from Samsung and co., has an invisible hinge, a step away from the two-display design detailed by Prosser in 2020.

This was reiterated in a February 2021 video from Prosser, who seemingly no longer thinks that Apple is going down the dual-display route, now suggesting that Apple is keen to develop something akin to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip clamshell form factor.

The leaker didn’t go into much more detail other than suggesting that the company is considering “fun colours” for the foldable iPhone, but it’s likely way too early on for Apple to make final decisions on colour schemes.

Dominik_Tomaszewski

Foundry

Whatever the final form factor, industry sources suggest that LG is working with Apple on a prototype display for the foldable, although it’s currently unclear whether it’ll be manufactured by LG or in-house by Apple once the time comes. 

Interestingly, in a May 2022 tweet, Kuo suggests that Apple is testing supplier E Ink’s Electronic Paper Display, otherwise known as EDP, for a “future foldable device’s cover screen & tablet-like applications”.

Kuo suggests that the colour EPD produced by E Ink “has the potential to become a mainstream solution for foldavble devices” and the cover/second screen in particular, thanks to its power-saving prowess.

Apple is testing E Ink’s Electronic Paper Display (EPD) for future foldable device’s cover screen & tablet-like applications. The color EPD has the potential to become a mainstream solution for foldable devices’ must-have cover/second screen thanks to its excellent power-saving.

— 郭明錤 (Ming-Chi Kuo) (@mingchikuo) May 17, 2022

Patents

Jon Prosser’s outlandish claims of a dual-screen iPhone were backed up less than a day later by an Apple patent discovered by Patently Apple. The patent describes a device consisting of two separate panels, connected together by a fabric hinge system. 

It’s not the first patent to describe a foldable iPhone though. A separate patent for a “flexible display device” was filed back in 2018, and was a continuation of patents filed in 2016, 2014 and 2011. There’s also a separate 2016 patent that describes “an electronic device, comprising: a housing that bends about a bend axis; and a display in the housing that bends about the bend axis”. 

There’s also an interesting patent, filed in 2018, that outlines a tri-folding foldable smartphone that folds in different directions, unlike current foldables. Per the patent filing, the double folding screen can be bent backwards or folded inward from either end, giving the user the freedom to use the foldable any way they like.

It could also allow Apple to produce a smartphone-sized foldable that folds out to something the size of an iPad, and it sounds a lot like the futuristic tablets used in Westworld too. An interesting concept, then.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the patent Apple filed outlining a method to avoid damaging displays when they’re bent. The patent for “Electronic Devices With Flexible Displays” suggests that damage is likely in cold conditions, and offers this viable solution – “the portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be self-heated by illuminating pixels”.

Another Patently Apple discovery showcases a novel concept where the crease doesn’t run down the centre of the display but leaves a portion exposed when the device is folded, which is thought to serve as a secondary display or sorts for notifications and the like, similarly to the Galaxy Z Flip’s external screen.

Apple has also filed patents detailing ways to get around the issue of creasing foldable displays. One such patent describes a system that allows the display to bow instead of fold to reduce the amount of stress on the panel itself, and it’s not dissimilar to the system found in the Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola Razr.

Source: Patently Apple

A July 2021 patent, titled “Electronic devices with adjustable display windows” details an expandable display that has the ability to cover the camera unit (and likely other Face ID components) when not in use. While it’s not specifically for a foldable iPhone, the concept of an expandable display isn’t far from what Android rivals are using to combat the crease present on most current foldables. 

Another recent patent gives us yet more details on what to expect from the foldable. The patent, entitled “Electonic devices with fiber composite friction hinges” gives us a look at a hinge that’s slim but doesn’t compromise on strength.

While the tech could arguably be used on a laptop, the patent specifically mentions foldable displays. The patent description notes that “the electronic device may have a flexible layer such as a flexible display that overlaps the hinge structure”. 

One of the most curious patents concerns Apple’s attempts to create a phone with no buttons at all. That’s already been rumoured for the iPhone 15 Pro, but the patent includes an illustration of how it could also be achieved with a foldable device, referring to how what it calls ‘sidewalls’ can be made from glass or other transparent materials but include touch and pressure-sensitive components under display elements.

Of course, it’s worth saying that Apple, like most tech companies, files patents all the time, and this isn’t necessarily indicative of what we’ll see on an upcoming iPhone or iPad, but it gives us a good idea of the avenues that Apple is considering.

United States Patent and Trademark Office

This is all we know at this point about a possible foldable device from Apple.

If it comes out in the near future, it will certainly compete with devices such as the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 6 and Z Flip 6, the Motorola Razr 50 Ultra, or the Google Pixel Fold 2.

If you don’t want to wait, be sure to check out what we currently consider to be the best foldable phone in 2024.

iPad, iPhone, Smartphones

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