Apple has been granted a patent for a foldable smartphone technology that could do away with some of the major problems for current folding devices.
The patent, published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week, describes an innovative hinge mechanism that uses special flaps to prevent a folding display from becoming creased or damaged during normal operation.
More specifically, the hinge mechanism described in the document would sport movable flaps that extend to cover the gap when unfolded but would retract when a device is folded. That would help ensure “adequate separations between the first and second portions of the display.”
Foldable smartphones are still a nascent technology, but many Android manufacturers have already tried their hand at foldable devices. Some attempts have been better than others, but none of them have been perfect thus far.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold, for example, suffered from critical issues before launch. Even then, current Fold devices in the wild suffer from creases where the device folds in half. (Huawei’s first foldable smartphone, the Mate X, has a similar problem.)
Other devices solve the creasing issue but run into additional problems. The Motorola Razr, for example, mitigates creasing with a unique hinge design. But earlier reviewers say that the hinge creaks when it’s folded and unfolded. Maybe not a dealbreaker, but a reminder that foldable technology is still in its early stages.
That’s likely why Apple has yet to enter the foldable smartphone game. Apple is sometimes a slow adopter of new technology, but in most cases, this allows it to avoid the problems of early innovation. In addition to folding devices, 5G is another example that comes to mind.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Apple is working on a foldable smartphone or tablet, however. The Cupertino tech company was granted its first foldable smartphone patent back in 2016. Since then, Apple has routinely applied for patents concerning different elements of a foldable smartphone.
But, as you probably know, Apple patents don’t confirm new devices are coming. And even when they do hint at the company’s future plans, there’s no way to figure out a launch date from them.
On the other hand, there have been supply chain reports and analyst predictions that suggest Apple’s first folding device is just over the horizon.
Back in 2018, Apple was said to be working with its Asian supply chain partners on a foldable device that could arrive as soon as this year —although that seems a bit unlikely at this point. More recent reports guest that Apple’s first folding device could be a 5G iPad in 2021.
In any case, based on Apple’s patience on the matter, it’s likely that when an Apple foldable device does show up, it’ll launch without many of the problems of its early rivals.