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There’s been no shortage of ideas about how Apple could build its first folding iPhone, and in fact we’ve been hearing about the idea since at least 2016, long before Samsung’s ill-fated Galaxy Fold hit the market, but so far there’s been no tangible reports to indicate what Apple may actually be up to.
What there have been are patents. Lots and lots of patents. So many in fact that it’s impossible to know with any certainty what direction Apple might go in. We’ve seen ideas for wrap-around displays, flaps to protect the bend at the screen, and even the idea of two separate displays that blend together at the fold.
Of course, while it’s possible that Apple is considering all of these ideas, it’s equally possible that the company is just patenting everything that it can in order to keep its options open and fend off potential competitors.
The fact is that folding iPhones look like great ideas in concept, but Apple’s rivals have consistently shown that it’s a lot harder in the actual execution, and display technology may not even be where it needs to be yet in order to pull this off with any real degree of success.
However, Apple clearly hasn’t given up on the idea, and new patents are appearing all the time, including a new one this month that reveals a unique approach that Apple could take that we haven’t yet seen before.
A Touch Bar?
Discovered by Patently Apple among a series of 63 newly granted patents is another one for a folding device, but this one shows a very different design from everything else that Apple has put forward, and it’s an interesting new idea.
As with most patents, the language is fairly broad, covering foldable devices with bendable displays, but in this case it proposes a design that would leave a portion of the display exposed when folded, allowing the iPhone to be used even when closed.
As described by Apple in the patent, the protruding display could be used to show content such as notifications of incoming messages, calendar alerts, and alarms, as well as things like battery level, wireless signal strength, and other status indicators, although this is far from the only content that could be displayed here, and the patent proposes that it could retain its touch sensitivity even when folded.
However, the patent also suggests that a touch-sensitive display much like the MacBook Touch Bar could also be placed on the outside casing — effectively the “back” of the iPhone — to interact with when the device is folded. This could be in addition to, or instead of, the overlapping display.
While the patent was only recently granted, Apple actually filed it back in 2018, so it’s another one of these ideas that the company has been thinking about for a while, and like almost all of Apple’s patents, a concept that may or may not actually come to fruition. Still, it’s a very interesting one nonetheless.
Realistically, a folding iPhone is probably still at least a couple of years away. Apple’s philosophy has always been to produce the best products, not necessarily the first ones. It’s an approach that is actually key to the success of many of Apple’s products and features, and this is especially true in the case of folding iPhones, which have generally been a hot mess so far. One thing we can be sure of is that when Apple finally does release its first folding iPhone, it’s going to be amazing regardless of what form it ultimately takes.