13 'Foldable iPhone' stories
November 2017 - May 2021
Table of contents
Before diving into everything we know about the foldable iPhone that’s in the works, here’s a recap of what we’ve seen actually hit the market from Android manufacturers and the early hard lessons.
Samsung was first to launch a foldable smartphone back in 2019, and although it had some serious issues – like the display breaking very easily – it kicked off a new frontier for mobile devices. In the time since we’ve seen Samsung release its second-gen foldable along with companies like Motorola, Microsoft, and more debuting competitors in the Android foldable space.
While it still doesn’t make sense for most people to buy a $2,000 foldable, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 did show some notable progress from the original and offered a compelling enough experience to convince our sister site 9to5Google that foldables are the future.
Apple’s approach on a foldable iPhone
It’s no surprise that Apple is taking its usual approach and letting other companies take the first crack at the nascent form factor. But that doesn’t mean Apple hasn’t been quietly working hard on its own take with a foldable iPhone.
While foldable iPhone patents have been filed going back to 2017, we saw a host of new ones pop up in recent years for things like preventing folding screen damage, a double-fold design, self-healing display, an exposed notifications strip, and more.
Many of Apple’s foldable iPhone patents hint at a single foldable display. However, we’ve also seen a patent for a folding iPhone that would use two separate displays like the Microsoft Duo.
Apple often files patents for ideas and features that it doesn’t bring to market. But if the company does launch a foldable iPhone in the coming years, it will have definitely benefitted from watching the problems with the early foldables from Samsung, Motorola, and others and solving them ahead of its first-gen product.
Foldable iPhone release date, features, more
In November 2020, we heard a report that foldable iPhones entered testing at Foxconn to see how prototypes would handle being folded 100,000 times. The report went on to say that Apple was still undecided between using OLED or microLED screens and also suggested a possible launch as early as 2022.
Since then we’ve seen two more credible reports from Bloomberg and Ming-Chi Kuo. First, in January 2021, Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman said that Apple has been working on a foldable iPhone for some time, but that a launch timeframe is unclear and it’s possible it won’t happen at all.
His sources say that Apple still doesn’t have a fully working foldable iPhone prototype, suggesting development remains in the early stages. And multiple sizes have been tested with one having a 6.7-inch display when unfolded.
Following that report, Ming-Chi Kuo put out an analyst note in March 2021 forecasting that if Apple was able to solve the challenges around creating a foldable iPhone, it could launch by 2023. Kuo believes that Apple’s first foldable would be in the 7.5-8-inch range.
The primary benefit of a foldable smartphone is the ability to have a tablet-size screen in the footprint of a traditional smartphone. Or in the case of Motorola, the ability to have a normal smartphone screen in a much smaller footprint. While Samsung and others have succeeded in bringing foldable hardware to market, there’s a lot to improve upon beyond just hardware durability like a compelling software experience.
Notably, Apple is in a good position to do just that with total control of the hardware and software. But it may have some work to do to convince customers. In a recent 9to5Mac survey about the new products Apple may unveil over the next four years, a foldable iPhone was on the bottom of the wishlist. AR/VR headset and glasses, the full Apple Silicon Mac lineup, Apple Car, and a true full-screen iPhone all ranked higher.