Apple is lagging behind its rivals in both foldable smartphone and 5G technologies. The tech giant is expected to launch its first 5G iPhone next year as it has settled the disputes with Qualcomm. The foldable iPhone could still be some time away. However, the Cupertino company has filed numerous patents related to folding devices in the last couple of years. On Tuesday, Apple was granted patent for the foldable iPhone display, which sheds light on how the futuristic device might work.
This is how the foldable iPhone display could work
The vast number of patent filings suggests that Apple is serious about the foldable display technology. However, patent filings don’t guarantee that the company is going to release a foldable iPhone. Apple patents dozens of technologies every year, and most of them never make it to the final products.
While Apple’s past patents focused on the hinge of the foldable devices, the new patent is about the display and cover layer. The iPhone maker had filed the patent for the Foldable cover and display for an electronic device with the USPTO in January 2018. According to Patently Apple, the patent was granted on May 28, 2019.
The patent documents suggest the foldable iPhone display would fold inward similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. It describes a display layer and a protective cover layer, both of which can bend at specific points. The protective cover sheet could be made out of chemically strengthened glass, sapphire, zirconia or other ceramic materials.
Apple also explains how the cover sheet will be manufactured to make it withstand the stress generated by thousands of cycles of folding and unfolding the screen over the lifetime of the phone. While Apple proposes to use glass or ceramic materials for the cover layer, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold or Huawei’s Mate X don’t have glass displays.
Apple describes foldable devices that have at least two hinges, unlike the Galaxy Fold which features a single hinge in the middle. The two hinges allow the device to fold in an ‘S’ shape or a ‘G’ shape. Users could unfold the device only partially or fully depending on the content they are viewing. The document says the finished product will have a smooth surface to give it a premium appearance and an intuitive user experience.
Apple goes on to highlight how a flexible smartphone or laptop would be superior to the traditional ones. The form factor of the existing smartphones is determined by the shape and size of the display. Since the traditional displays are not flexible, they use a mechanical hinge or pivot joint to “accommodate multiple form factors.” The use of a “flexible cover coupled to a flexible display” eliminates these limitations.
When will it arrive?
Though Apple has patented the foldable display technology, the launch of a foldable iPhone is unlikely to happen this year. We could see a foldable iPhone in 2020 or 2021 at the earliest, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives. Ives told CNN that the new patent shows that foldable devices are on Apple’s roadmap. The Cupertino company is far behind Samsung and Huawei.
Ives added that foldable devices and 5G represent the next generation of smartphones. According to the analyst, Apple has been “on the fence” about foldable devices for years.
While Apple is running behind its competitors, a couple of things have worked in its favor. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was supposed to go on sale in April, but has been delayed after early reviewers reported that their units suffered display-related issues. Some people removed the protective layer, which caused the display to malfunction. Even those who hadn’t removed the protective cover said their phone’s display would flicker and stop working.
Samsung was expected to launch the Galaxy Fold in June after fixing the problems. However, a new report claims that the device is unlikely to hit the store shelves before July. Best Buy has already canceled all the Galaxy Fold pre-orders due to uncertainty over the release schedule. Also, the Galaxy Fold is out of the reach of most buyers because of its $2,000 price tag.
Huawei also announced its foldable phone Mate X with 5G technology at the Mobile World Congress in February. However, Huawei has been banned by the US government, which means any of Huawei’s future phones won’t run Google’s Android software. Don’t expect the Mate X to launch in the US.