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Whether you’re completely sold on the idea or not, it’s hard to argue that a folding iPhone is a cool and interesting concept, and although Apple’s clearly been working on it for years, it looks like 2021 could be the year we actually see the company’s plans come to fruition.
We’ve heard rumours of a folding iPhone since at least 2016, when Apple started accumulating patents for the idea, clearly showing that it was something that the iPhone maker was interested in pursuing, however things started heating up as many of Apple’s rivals like Samsung came to the table with their own folding smartphone concepts, and while the first of these was a totally hot mess, these manufacturers seem to have been learning and adapting from their mistakes.
Of course, since Apple is rarely in a hurry to be first out of the gate with any new technology, it’s also able to sit comfortably back and learn from the mistakes of others, and this has been paying off when it comes to the iPhone, as there’s every reason to believe that when Apple does in fact release the first foldable iPhone, it’s going to be a well-engineered and brilliantly designed smartphone that will surprise and delight Apple users.
Earlier this year, it was clear that Apple was still actively working on multiple designs for a folding iPhone, but the really exciting news came in November, when it was revealed that two key Apple suppliers, Foxconn and Nippon, had been tagged to begin producing actual samples of folding iPhone technology, intended for Apple to begin assessing it under real-world conditions.
The goal was to ensure that the display technology that Apple was planning to use for the folding designs — which is likely to be either OLED or Micro LED — would be capable of withstanding up to 100,000 folds without any ill effects. This is in stark contrast to laptop hinges, which normally only have to undergo testing for 20,000–30,000 folds, and although some premium laptops often go as high as 50,000, it stands to reason that an iPhone would be opened and closed many more times than a laptop.
The Initial Results Are In
According to Economic Daily News (Google Translate), which first shared the reports of the plans back in November, the tests at Foxconn have been completed successfully at its factory in Shenzhen with flying colours.
The report also shares some additional details about exactly what Apple has been testing, indicating that two different designs were put through rigorous procedures, one of which is a dual-screen design similar to Microsoft’s Surface Duo, while the other is a model with a single-screen concave fold, described as being similar to the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip or Moto RAZR.
To be clear, the test units are not even close to being completely functional iPhones, but rather merely shells that feature limited internals and just the hinge system and screen technology, since the main purpose was to assess the durability of those components, partly so that Apple can determine which design to go with — according to the report, only one design will actually be carried through into actual production, although Apple is undoubtedly looking at several other factors in addition to the durability of each hinge design.
Notably, the report doesn’t indicate whether the same hinge system was used on all of the test devices, so Apple may have also been evaluating multiple hinge system designs to decide on the best path forward.
Although Apple was granted a patent for a dual-display design in March, it wasn’t clear whether the iPhone maker was actually considering that approach until rumours of a dual-display iPhone concept appeared in June. Well-known leaker Jon Prosser claimed to have seen a prototype of the device, which used two separate display panels on a hinge, but with a design that “looks fairly continuous and seamless” rather than simply looking like two phones stuck together.
However, while Prosser suggested that this was the design that Apple would be going forward with for its first folding iPhone, the latest reports out of Apple’s supply chain suggest that things could go either way. Certainly, the flexible OLED “clamshell” approach that Samsung and Moto have used seem much more appealing if Apple can pull it off, so it sounds like the dual-display model could simply be the company’s plan B.
Although the testing results are extremely encouraging, Economic Daily News still predicts that an actual folding iPhone may not emerge in the mainstream until 2022, or possibly even 2023. However, while we wouldn’t place any real money on it, considering how actively Apple is working on it, we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that at least one folding iPhone model could surface later this year, even if it’s only as a preview of what’s to come. If not, however, we can still dream of what Apple has up its sleeve in the next couple of years.