It's easy to see the appeal in the concept - you could use a standard iPhone display when out and about, and when you want to play a game or read an article, simply ‘unfold’ the iPhone and increase the screen size to that of an iPad Mini. Alternatively, Apple could go down the same route as the Motorola Razr and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, halving the size of the smartphone display when not in use.
There have been many rumours over the years, some stretching as far back as 2016, suggesting Apple was actively looking for a flexible OLED manufacturer to produce panels for a foldable iPhone, and a report from 2019 suggested Apple had moved on to the testing stage. There have also been multiple patents filed over the years and Jon Prosser has even shared some details on what to expect from the foldable iPhone, suggesting that something is in the works at Apple - more on that later.
Rumours aside, there are a few issues surrounding foldable smartphones in general right now, namely price, durability and quality. It’s likely that Apple is working on these issues behind closed doors and it’s safe to assume that Apple won’t utter a whisper about the foldable iPhone until it’s near-perfect. That might mean the device in question is still a few years away but let’s be honest, it’ll be worth the wait, won’t it? And by then, the idea of a folding iPhone might not seem so sci-fi...
When will Apple release a foldable iPhone?
That’s the million-dollar question, right there. Korea Times and CNBC sources both claimed, back in 2018, that the foldable iPhone would be released in 2020, but that seems unlikely - to us, at least. The technology is still new and Apple isn’t in a rush to compete: Apple is rarely the first to launch a new product category, but it usually offers something of a much higher quality than the competition when it finally does.
Compound that with more recent comments from Apple leaker Jon Prosser, an analyst with extensive knowledge of Apple’s upcoming products, claiming that he has no idea when Apple is likely to release the foldable iPhone, suggesting that it won’t appear until 2021, at the earliest.
The fact that there wasn't even a mention or tease of folding tech at WWDC 2020 only adds to the likelihood that the folding iPhone is a long way off yet.
What will the foldable iPhone look like?
While many assume that Apple would go down the same route as the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate Xs, producing a foldable iPhone that folds down the middle like a book, patents filed over the years - and more recently, Jon Prosser - suggest that this might not be the case. And with prevalent issues around durability, the noticeable crease in foldable displays and the overall quality of the finish, Apple’s alternative might actually make more sense.
In a series of tweets, Prosser revealed that the foldable iPhone may not be comprised of a single flexible display. Instead, the leaker claims that the current ‘foldable’ iPhone prototype is comprised of two separate displays, connected by a central hinge. That might sound a little underwhelming initially, but he later clarified that “even though they’re two separate panels, when the displays are extended, it looks fairly continuous and seamless”. It’ll be interesting to see how Apple pulls that off, for sure.
He goes on to explain that the folding iPhone won’t feature a notch and that it has more of an iPhone 11-esque finish, complete with metallic rounded edges, unlike those of the angular iPad Pro (and possibly iPhone 12) range.
Jon Prosser’s seemingly outlandish claims 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”.
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 more recently, on 8 July, 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.
Of course, it’s worth saying that Apple, like most tech companies, file 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.
Renders and concepts
Of course, it wouldn’t be a futuristic product without an equally outlandish concept or two to hype things up. Here’s a pick of our favourites found online:
This render, courtesy of LetsGoDigital, showcases a design similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
And this one, from Roy Gilsing on behalf of Foldable Phone News, showcases something akin to the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
How much will the foldable iPhone cost?
At this point, it’s hard to say. Foldable Android smartphones cost as little as £1300/$1380 and go as far as £2999 if you want the Huawei Mate Xs, but that’s partly because the technology is so new.
It’s highly likely that Apple’s foldable iPhone will also come at a high price point, but it shouldn’t be as outlandish as the prices we’re seeing right now. It could be one of the core reasons why Apple isn’t in a rush to bring a foldable device to market.