The first foldable smartphones launch later this year. These will all run Android, but Apple has been researching a bendable iPhone. It received another patent today for a mobile device with a flexible screen.
This describes various possible hinge mechanisms, likely the trickiest part of a flexible phone.
Prototype bendable displays have been around since 2013, but companies are finally ready to put them into production. Samsung is likely to be the first company to unveil one, with Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo coming shortly after.
Apple is planning more long term.
Folding iPhone development
The patent Apple received today is called simply “Flexible display devices” and is number 10,104,787.
The description says, rather dryly, “Flexible displays may be mounted to the housing portions overlapping the hinges. When the housing portions in a device are rotated relative to each other, the flexible display may bend.”
iPhone engineers are taking into account both the ways a flexible phone can be closed. As the patent description says, “The hinge may be configured to allow the flexible display to be placed in a front-to-front configuration in which an active side of the display faces itself or a back-to-back configuration.”
Apple is covering all the possibilities. “The hinges may include hinges based on a three-bar linkage, hinges based on a four-bar linkage, hinges with slotted members, hinges formed from flexible support structures, and hinges based on flexible housing structures.”
Timing is important
Apple filed for this patent in the fall of 2016. That’s about the same time the company filed for another patent on a flexible device.
According to various sources, Apple isn’t planning an foldable iPhone anytime soon. The earliest prediction is 2020, and others say it will be later. There’s no sign of one in 2019.
Much will likely depend on the success of the bendable Android devices coming soon. If they do well, Apple may have to move quickly to compete.