Apple Inc. is joining the other major phone manufacturers in the next big trend: foldable smartphones.
Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published preliminary drawings of a new Apple screen that’s theoretically capable of folding in half, like a clamshell, or in thirds, like a triangle.
Samsung, meanwhile, is charging ahead with its own foldable phone plans. At a press event on Wednesday, the company unveiled the Galaxy Fold, which will cost around $2,000 and unfold in half, like a book, revealing a 7.3-inch screen. The Galaxy Fold will start selling in the U.S. in late April.
Samsung’s $2,000 folding phone, the Galaxy Fold
DJ Koh, president and CEO of Samsung’s IT and mobile communications division, unveils new Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone at a press event in San Francisco on Feb. 20, 2019.
Apple has anticipated the folding smartphone since at least 2011, when it filed its first patent application for “flexible display devices.”
“The hinge may be configured to allow the flexible display to be placed in a front-to-front configuration in which an active side of the display faces itself or a back-to-back configuration,” Apple’s latest patent application reads. “Engagement structures may be used to help the housing grip external objects and to hold the housing portions together. The hinges may be provided with rotational detents to help hold the flexible display in desired positions.”
Foldable iPhone? Apple’s patent for a flexible display
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published preliminary drawings of a new Apple screen that’s theoretically capable of folding in half, like a clamshell, or in thirds, like a triangle.
In theory, foldable phones could allow for mega-sized, tablet-like screens in a relatively small device, particularly as OLED screens get thinner and more flexible. Bent into a triangle, they could allow people to play two-player games on their own screens.
Wrapping the phone around a stationary object, like a water bottle or street sign, would turn those objects into impromptu photo tripods.
Futuristic concept designs suggest incredibly thin screens that fold down to the size of a bracelet, and unfold into a tablet when needed.
It’s unclear when, or if, Apple will unveil a foldable phone or tablet. Large companies often file defensive patents on emerging technologies, to protect themselves in the future, or extract future royalty payments from successful competitors.
Apple’s multiple patent applications on flexible screens, filed in 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2018, all share the same three inventors: Director of Product Design Fletcher Rothkopf, former product design manager Teodor Dabov and Andrew Janis.
Huawei, Xiaomi, Lenovo and Motorola are either confirmed or rumored to be working on their own foldable smartphones.