Rumours of a folding iPhone have been flying around since at least 2016, but despite some of Apple’s key competitors releasing their own foldable smartphones, Apple has continued to stick to its tried and true iPhone form factor.
Of course, Apple is rarely the first to adopt bleeding-edge technologies, and as innovative as its products sometimes seem, they’re more often than not the result of Apple taking a previously established idea and simply doing it right. For instance, Apple Pay wasn’t the first mobile payment system, the Apple Watch wasn’t the first smart watch, and AirPods weren’t the first true wireless Bluetooth earbuds, yet all of these products took the world by storm, and even many technology enthusiasts may forget that Apple wasn’t there first.
In the case of a folding iPhone, however, Apple’s slow and steady approach is paying off even more, as most of the attempts by others to create foldable smartphones so far have been a hot mess. We’ve seen some great concepts for folding smartphones, but nobody has yet nailed the actual execution. If anything, Apple’s rivals have simply proven that making a folding smartphone is hard.
However, while we haven’t heard much about Apple’s working on folding displays lately, that doesn’t mean that the company has given up on it, and now a recent leak suggests that Apple already has a pretty solid working prototype of one.
Two Displays Are Better Than One
So far most of the attempts at folding smartphones by companies like Samsung and Motorola have failed at least partially due to their insistence on taking advantage of the flexible nature of OLED displays to try and make a single screen that spans across the fold. While this is a great idea in theory, in practice it’s usually resulted in the screen becoming creased or damaged during normal operation. OLED screens may be flexible, but they’re not quite flexible enough.
An Apple patent unveiled earlier this year suggested that Apple was looking on ways to address this with an innovative hinge mechanism, but this still sounded like a matter of trying to solve a bad solution rather than solving the actual problem.
After all, the key feature of a folding iPhone is having a display on each side of the fold, but there’s nothing that says that this has to be one display. If two separate displays can act together seamlessly enough to appear as one, this would avoid many of the obstacles that others have faced.
Another Apple patent discovered in March reveals that Apple may be pursuing this kind of out-of-the-box thinking, taking a novel approach by using two separate screens that meet up electronically. These could leverage Apple’s design for a wraparound display in such a way that the edges would effectively blend together.
According to prolific leaker Jon Prosser, this is exactly the approach that Apple has taken with its latest prototype, which “isn’t really a foldable” as Prosser notes, but rather simply behaves like one.
The prototype that Prosser has seen uses two separate display panels on a hinge, but otherwise features the current iPhone 11 design style, with rounded edges. Prosser also adds, however, that it doesn’t have a notch, and that despite using two displays, when it’s open it “looks fairly continuous and seamless” and that “it doesn’t look like they just stuck two phones together.”
In an interview on YouTube, Prosser suggested that Apple’s device has more in common with Microsoft’s Surface Neo and Surface Duo, both of which use a similar two-display design with a hinge, although Prosser implies that Apple’s design will be far more elegant.