Samsung is set to launch a foldable smartphone at its Galaxy Unpacked event on February 20. Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is set to follow soon with the launch of its own foldable smartphone at MWC 2019 on February 24. There are also reports of LG, Xiaomi, TCL and Nubia all launching smartphones with foldable form factor. Apple, the third major smartphone maker in the world and one of the most profitable company, might not wait too long to introduce a foldable iPhone.
Previous reports indicated that Apple is not planning to jump onto the foldable smartphone bandwagon at least until 2020. Now, a patent filing suggests that the company might have a different approach to the segment. All the major smartphone makers experimenting with foldable smartphone design are expected to go with either inward or outward folding design. But, Apple might an approach that cannot be described with those two definitions alone. A recent patent filing, which has come out as a continuation of an original patent filed in 2011 and later updated in 2016, shows a number of diagrams that could be Apple’s plan for a foldable smartphone.
The pictures added to the original patent filing show every possible way a foldable display could be mounted on a device and then made to work mechanically. Some of the designs are pretty much straightforward: take two display parts and connect them together using a hinge. The question that looms around such a design is what happens to excess display when it is fully closed. Some of the pictures are extremely ambitious and shows an angle that cannot be achieved with today’s technology.
Some of the designs in Apple’s patent filings show similarity to Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 design accruing a sharp angle and leaving a small open space when the device is fully closed. The patent filing also indicates a design where the display could wrap around the outside of the rest of the device. This could be the approach Apple adopts when it goes ahead to mass produce a foldable smartphone.
The patent listing, first spotted by CNET, also shows various design guidelines including option for a multi-link assembly. There is also a design where Apple imagines using various thickness and flexibility linking joints. The Cupertino-based company is also not limiting itself to symmetrical design and form factor. There are drawings which show Apple could introduce devices with a few “roll-up” and tension-based designs. This could be used either to hold a panel in place or displace it in a controlled manner.
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Lastly, there are also designs which confirm that Apple, like others, is not limiting itself to two display panels and is even testing three panels. Such a design could make its way to device form factors beyond smartphones and extend to a future iPad or MacBook as well. If Apple sticks with the design of iPhone X this year then we could see major changes in design next year.