Back in 2016, Apple was granted its first foldable iPhone patent — documents published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which outlined the company’s bold vision of a futuristic iPhone form-factor allowing the handset to fold in half like a taco.
Since then, a number of OEMs including Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo and others have come forward with their own plans of developing a foldable smartphone with next-generation flexible OLED displays.
And while Samsung is on the cusp of unveiling its first foldable Galaxy device, known around the web as Galaxy X, Apple is still refining and working out the kinks in its own design, as evidenced in the company’s latest foldable iPhone patent published on Monday by the USPTO.
New Foldable iPhone Patent
The patent (No. 10,104,787) is Apple’s second major serving of IP covering its vision of a foldable iPhone device, and largely follows-up on the original patent by adding some interesting new details and figures to help illustrate what’s going on.
As Patently Apple notes, and industry pundits agree, most smartphone-makers continue introducing bigger devices with bigger display areas; and since the bold-minded OEMs behind them show no signs of slowing down, eventually we’ll arrive at the point where the only option will be to introduce a foldable smartphone. And companies like Samsung, the world’s largest OLED display-maker, are leading the way with their out-of-this-world OLED innovations.
Patently Apple offered the following compilation of patent figures (FIGs) taken straight from Apple’s IP documentation, to illustrate the basic concepts:
- FIG. 10: Illustrates an open side-view of the foldable device with its flexible display and hinge based on a “four-bar linkage configuration.”
- FIG. 11: Illustrates a side-view of the foldable device where the housing has been “manipulated” (folded), placing the display halves in a closed configuration.
- FIG. 22: Illustrates a back-to-back configuration where, instead of a hinge mechanism, Apple employs an engagement mechanism reliant on “magnetic structures, hook-and-loop fasteners, hook and notch structures and/or other mating structures.”
- FIG. 24: Illustrates the device in a bizarre tri-fold design with double hinge construction.
How Does This Foldable iPhone Work?
Apple’s second foldable iPhone patent largely adds to its first by describing two new claims relating to an updated flexible hinge design, and the use of soft fabric, presumably, for adding additional protection to the housing.
The first claim focuses on an updated “flexible hinge”, where the hinge flexes along a “four bar axis.” This would allow the flexible OLED display to seamlessly shift between a “planar position” (where the first and second display halves are spread out) and a “folded position” (where the two display halves are parallel to one another.”
Apple also talks of “a support structure” between the flexible display and the device’s housing, which would be comprised of either metal, polymer, or shape memory alloy material.
The second claim essentially echoes the points of the first, but interestingly adds in “a third display portion.” It’s hard to tell what this mysterious portion is, exactly, but in purely technical terms, it appears to be described as a soft fabric material which would (presumably) play a role in protecting the two display halves when the device is folded shut.
When Will Apple Release a Foldable iPhone?
While the majority of Apple’s patents are technical in nature and context, the company’s original foldable iPhone patent filed back in Q3 2016 gave us a rare glimpse into what a foldable iPhone might look like — should Apple choose to go down that route one day.
Current speculation is that the company could unveil its foldable iPhone device by 2020, however that’s also the same relative time Cupertino’s expected to unveil Apple Glass — its revolutionary Mixed Reality (MR) eyeglasses which could outright replace iPhones, altogether, one day.