Is Apple Working on Clam-shell iPhones and iPads?



Rumors are circulating about a new design feature in the upcoming iPhone 5: An edge-to-edge screen.

The scuttlebutt originated a couple of months ago with a post on iDealsChina, and has been re-enforced by the appearance of a case for such a design on AliBaba, a disreputable online clearinghouse for buying cheap crap from China.

It all sounds pretty shady, but these kinds of sources predicted other Apple products in the past. Even more compelling is that the Wall Street Journal claims a source that has seen a prototype of such a design.

The rumor is either true or false. Who knows? Regardless, an edge-to-edge screen makes sense. If it’s possible to engineer, it’s likely to be built.

Here’s why: There is a fundamental tension in mobile design between minimum case size and maximum screen real estate. For the overall size of the phone or tablet: the smaller, the better. For the size of the screen: the bigger, the better.

Something’s gotta give.

How can the makers of mobile devices keep shrinking handsets while growing screens? The edge-to-edge screen idea is where shrinking devices and growing screens max out. So what comes after that?

I think we’re going to see a new generation of clam-shell multi-touch devices. And I think we’re likely to see them first from Apple.

The most compelling vision for such devices came from Nicholas Negroponte’s One-Laptop-Per-Child initiative. The organization’s XO-2 concept was due in 2010. The project is either dead or late.

Either way, the concept is brilliant — and perfect for the future of Apple’s iOS. The XO-2 concept is a clam-shell design like a laptop. But on the bottom half, the device has another screen instead of a keyboard and touchpad.

In “laptop mode,” the bottom screen is a touch-screen keyboard. In “tablet mode,” both screens function as one large screen. In “book mode,” each half is a page for reading e-books. In “two-person” mode, one screen is oriented for one user, and the other for another user sitting on the opposite side of the device.

The only problem with the XO-2 concept as a consumer device is that in “tablet mode,” the two screens are too far apart to be used as a single screen. But if Apple has figured out how to bring functional screen real estate right to the edge of a device, then they’ve solved the two-screen tablet problem.

That would enable an iPhone the same size as the current model, but that opens like a book, snaps flat and is usable with twice the screen real estate. Ditto for a new iPad.

Another possibility would be an iPad with the same screen real-estate as the current model, but one that folds in half and fits in a pocket.

If that sounds farfetched, consider that Sony has announced a form-factor just like that: a two-screen Android tablet called the S2 that opens flat. The fatal flaw of the S2 is that the screens don’t touch — there’s about a half inch of plastic between the screens. Still, they function as one, and Sony will be shipping this device later in the year.

Yet a third possibility is that Apple could roll out a hybrid device that offers the features of both iOS and MacBook. Imagine a MacBook Air laptop where the bottom of the device were a screen-based keyboard and touchpad rather than physical ones. Snap it flat and the interface becomes a multi-touch device like the iPad, but with a massive screen.

So I have two questions for you iPhone and iPad fans. First, do you think Apple would do such a thing? Is a clam-shell multi-touch device sufficiently minimalist and elegant for Apple?

More importantly, would you tolerate a seam down the middle of your screen if the payoff was twice the screen real estate?

My guess is the answers are yes and yes. I think we’re going to see clam-shell devices out of Apple some time next year. And I think we’re going to like them.

If you disagree with this direction, you would have to accept one of the following three possibilities: 1); iOS devices will stop shrinking; 2) iOS screens will stop growing; or 3) Apple will invent some other way to continue existing trends toward shrinking devices and growing screens.

These three directions plus the clam-shell option are the only four possibilities. My prediction is the clam-shell direction. What’s yours?

(Picture courtesy OLPC)

  • TylerHoj

     Everything statement on the planet is either true or false. Why you had to point that out about this rumour. I dunno. 

  • TylerHoj

     Why I had to point that out to you, or why am I messaging myself? I dunno. Deal with it. 

  • mahimahimahi

    This statement is false.

  • Danielsw

    I think this is bogus. Larger screens mean more battery drain. Mechanical hinges increase failure rates. A hinged device is a backwards step towards laptops, netbooks–too awkward to hold/handle in one hand. A laptop-like layout for a keyboard is also a backwards step. This is wishful thinking at best on the part of a misguided and/or deluded few.

  • Mike Elgan

     So which is it: 1) devices stop shrinking; 2) screens stop growing; or 3) Apple invents some other way?

  • Danielsw

    So far (for the past two decades) I’ve been happy with Apple’s view of “what’s next”. I don’t pretend to know better than Steve Jobs what that might be–because I don’t have his vantage point. I actually had envisioned Apple making a phone somewhat before its introduction. But I’d need to be apprised of at least all of what Apple “knows” with respect to its capabilities and its markets (and potential markets) for me to even start thinking about how to improve upon the iPhone and iPad.

    But it certainly wouldn’t be this silly clamshell idea. Way too arbitrary and, frankly, stupid.

    Another stupid notion is that Apple, much less anyone, would attempt such a radical design change at this still-early stage for the iPad which is essentially a new product.

    I think the genius of the iPad is that the final product was conceived before any decisions were made about hardware. Steve mentioned it at the beginning of his first iPad keynote. It was intended to fill the gap between laptop and phone.

    Adding back in the complexity of a hinge and clamshell would therefore be a shot in the foot. Insane. Stupid.

    Apple isn’t either.

  • Olternaut

    Get rid of the hinge in the middle of a clamshell screen.  Flexible full color displays do exist.  It’s just that I can’t tolerate the tech crawling it’s way ever so infuritatingly slowly out of the friggin labs.  We need the tenacity of someone like Steve Jobs yelling and screaming at lab techs to hurry the hell up.
    But Apple is content to wait till others perfect the component tech before they implement it.  Apple is great at assembling tech but not actually creating it.  Can’t Steve do something about this?

  • Anon

    Surprised not to see Microsoft’s Courier project discussed here – it looked awesome, and included a pen.  

  • John Howell

     I’d just prefer Apple focused on fixing issues with corrupt album art thumbnails, wireless music/piodcast sync, and longer battery life. I’d upgade again right now, if those were solved, even though I only got my phone in December.

  • Doug Henry

    But all of those criticisms are based on stagnant current technology limits. I can imagine a simple-to-open ipad that’s 1/2 the length using magnets to remain rigid when open. Basically, what we need is something that feels as solidly put together when opened as one that lacks a hinge, but which lets us fold it when we’re done. Most of the time, we’ll use it for hours on end, but when it comes time to put it away, a smaller length is desirable. Samsung developed a way to do it with a flexible silicone hinge.

  • estragon_nyc

    You know what I think?  Microsoft should make a clamshell Zune with a hinge in the middle of the screen.  It’ll be so cool that everyone will want one.  That’ll show Apple!

  • Chico McGuinness

    i think he didn’t get it.

  • Checco715

    Let me tell you why you’re wrong…. For starters if apple released an iOS clamshell device there would have to be another mass conversation of apps to fit the new design and screen ratio. Not to mention you ignored the already released clamshell devices like the one from acer.
    1.) So the answer is iOS devices have room to get smaller. They can get thinner and they can use an edge to edge screen to cut down size but the functional scene size won’t change.
    2.) the screens won’t get bigger. There’s no need to. If you want bigger get a laptop. The screens will get progressively higher definition but they will stay the same size.

  • JDWages

     I agree wholeheartedly.  It doesn’t seem to make sense for Apple to come up with something that someone else already has.  That line in the middle of two screens is awful.  Cut out that hideous line and you’ve got me sold.

  • jeffstr

    No, why would apple spend money making another device that not only competes with its iPad but its macbook too. Also I DONT want a phone that splits in half, i can see the appeal of a macbook with a touchscreen keyboard that means, optional interface, less mechanical parts, thinner design. But iPhones and iPads? No. Same goes for this theory that in the future we are all going to have phones you can roll up and stick in your pocket. I don’t want a phone that blows off the table when a breeze blows though, i want a device with some weight. and after using an iPad it feels perfectly balance as it is, its not too heavy in your hand that it starts aching, but its not too light that I’m scared its going to float away.

  • Joseph

    Before the book people read from scrolls. So maybe in the future people will carry around their mobile computers in the form of a scroll? No. And there’s no reason to think the future of devices will copy the form of the printed book. Holding something with a hinge in the middle is not easier than holding a single panel tablet. Regardless, there’s no way in hell Apple would release a device with a hinge in the middle of the screen. It would be going backwards from the iPad, not forward.Holding something with a hinge in the middle is not easier than holding a single panel tablet. Regardless, there’s no way in hell Apple would release a device with a hinge in the middle of the screen. It would be going backwards from the iPad, not forward.

  • Felfac

    How would you have double the screen size just by making it snap in half? That’s what I dont understand

  • SavedByTechnology

    I believe Apple will follow #3 for the iPhone/iPod, and #2 for the iPad, and here’s why: Apple’s philosophy is minimalistic.  Having two screens defeats this purpose.  They did, however, explore this idea three years ago, but I seriously doubt they would mess with the success of the iOS platform.  And having a dual screen seems so PC to me, whereas Apple wants to continue moving away from the PC layout.I would rather see Apple decrease the bezel around all iOS devices, though I think the mock images of the purported iPhone 5 look ridiculous.  I would like to see an iPhone/iPod touch with a 4″ screen, which would be an increase of 12.7mm from its current size.  This can easily be achieved without an increase in overall size and without making the phone look fugly like those mock images.  As for the iPad 3, keep the current layout and screen size, but reduce the bezel around all sides to reduce the total footprint by almost 2 inches.

  • Tom McGrath

     It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Apple would do yet. They might release it in say 5 or 6 years, but for 2011, 2012, or even 2013? I can’t see Apple risking their iPad success for a dual screened device which will damage both iPad and Mac sales. However, there is a possibility they could do something like this with Samsung’s newly developed flexible screen which only loses 6% effectiveness after 100,000 folds and unfolds. But that wouldn’t be good enough for Apple, they’d want to make sure it would only lose 1% after 1,000,000 folds and unfolds. That’ll probably take another two years at least to develop.

  • tinch

    We already know how Apple went around that problem. When the screen of the iPhone/iPod touch was too small for certain tasks, Apple released the iPad.
    Now you have 2 different products that you use in different settings. Apple won’t release a third one, that’s sort in between them. The screen sizes are covered with those two products.

  • Omar de la Serna

    There’s an article on Engadget on Samsung’s foldable AMOLED that doesn’t crease even at 100,000 folds. I think this is very possible and if someone could pull it off, it’ll be Apple.

  • CharliK

     I say #4. Things stay just as they are right now and folks that think that Apple simply MUST to anything of this sort will be forced to get over it. 

    Yes Apple has patents, yes allegedly they built prototypes. Doesn’t mean they are going to do anything about anything. They test, they reject, they patent so when someone else is crazy enough to actually try to release it (and have it fail in the end), Apple can make a little licensing money to pay back the R&D. It’s just good business. 

    The Iphone and ipad are selling like crazy with their current size, shape etc. Why change what works. 

  • Robert101455

    You what they call a clamshell iPad?

    A MacBook.

  • Clarus

    As I predicted, most iPads never leave home because although they’re portable, they’re too big to carry unless you’ve got a bag. Look at the poor sales of 3G iPads for further proof that people do not see them as any more portable than a MacBook.
    The iPhone is Apple’s true go-everywhere device. It’s small and light with a high res screen and good battery life, but the screen is only 3.5″. What if you want something bigger that still fits in a pocket? You either have to get an Android or nothing.
    Maybe that market isn’t as big as the ones covered by the iPhone and iPad, but don’t pretend there’s no room in the middle.

  • applemoney

    I think Apple is going for the bigger screens. The size of a screen do matter to us humans. The PC’s big screens are still my favorite.

  • Antony D

     “Apple is great at assembling tech but not actually creating” it. WOW, where were you in the mid 80’s and 1997 onwards. I think you have just woken me from an amazing dream to find out Big Blue and MS are still being so creative. I love the analogy that MS deploys. If we can’t beat them or come up up with something ourselves:-) we’ll just buy them and then squash them because we don’t even know what they have created and we have no idea what to do with it. Problem solve. 1984. Super bowl. What a day

  • cheesy11

    apple should make a 4 quarter ipad which you can fold up so it goes from an a4 sized ipad to a a5 sized ipad woop

  • Giovanni Bianchi

    It’s just not going to happen. What’s wrong with iPad’s 9.7″ screen? I don’t think anybody feels the need for anything bigger on such class of devices. I think Apple have to come up with some ideas to get the most out of the current screen real estate. For example, a way of sharing the screen between two apps, like chat + browser, either 50:50 or in a main app + widget configuration.
    Now, that would be nice.


  • Rainer Brockerhoff

     Blogged about this possibility in 2009: