Apple’s Foldable iPhone Development Is Heating Up (Literally)

Foldable Iphone1 Credit: EverythingApplePro
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Cold temperatures may be the bane of foldable smartphones, since OLED panels can get brittle in cooler weather. But Apple has a solution.

A patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday suggests that Apple is exploring ways to mitigate the possibility of damage when using a folding smartphone in cold weather.

The patent, titled “Electronic Devices With Flexible Displays,” outlines the cold weather problem and explores several options that could help.

To start, Apple notes that a device would use its onboard sensor suite to determine how warm it is and if it’s in a dangerously cold environment. Then, it could apply mechanisms to mitigate the possibility of any damage during a screen’s flex.

For example, one part of the patent that the part of the display that actually bends could be heated up by keeping the pixels in that portion lit up (possibly by way of a bright screensaver). Apple also notes that a “heating element” or other heating structure could be used, but it didn’t really specify what that could mean.

Another solution: prevent unfolding or folding depending on environmental context. Apple suggests that a magnetic latching mechanism could prevent the device from being opened or closed when in extremely cold temperatures. The phone itself could even warn a user that a bend could be a problem.

As far as what temperatures Apple is seeking to protect against, the patent notes that it could be any environment “significantly below room temperature.” The patent even notes that this could occur in environments that are otherwise hospitable to humans.

Some components and adhesives used in OLED devices could become more resistant to flexing in these environments, meaning that damage or wear could be caused if a user tried to fold or unfold their device.

Usage in cooler weather represents just another problem that foldable smartphones need to overcome before they become devices worthy of your money. At best, the folding devices announced recently are high-priced beta products. And a foldable smartphone that is prone to damage if bent when it’s cold outside is a major issue.

All of this suggests that, while the hype around foldable smartphones is strong, Apple may actually be on track to release a folding device that’s actually usable and useful by and for consumers. In other words, Apple is more concerned about releasing a refined device than being first.

This is far from the first time that Apple has filed a patent related to foldable smartphones. Over the past few years, the Cupertino tech giant has filed for and has been granted a slew of patents related to flexible displays and folding devices.

And while Apple patents are a poor indicator of a release timeline, previous reports suggest that Apple could officially debut a foldable iPhone by 2020.

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