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iPhone Flip: When will Apple get into the foldable iPhone game?

Will we ever see an iPhone Flip, or is a foldable iPad more likely?
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Published onJanuary 20, 2024

Foldable iPhone DIY
Scientific and technological aesthetics/YouTube

Foldable phones have existed for several years, but only a few companies have embraced the technology, with Samsung chief among them. Recently we’ve certainly seen things heat up, though. Not only is Motorola finally getting some positive attention for the Razr Plus and Razr 2023, but even Google has thrown itself into the ring with the Pixel Fold. But what about Apple? Should we eventually expect an iPhone flip phone or foldable?

Rumors of a so-called iPhone Flip have existed for a while, but there are few concrete details about Apple’s plans. Is there any evidence Apple is working on an iPhone flip or foldable device? Let’s dive in.

Is Apple currently working on an iPhone flip or foldable device?

Apple has not commented much on its plans for foldable technology, at least officially. Nevertheless, there is at least some indication Apple has its eye turned toward the foldable market. Over the years, Apple has filed several patents related to foldable and flippable phone technology, which makes it clear the company is at least actively experimenting with the idea. Of course, companies often file new patents to protect their interests. Only a small fraction of these patents make it into commercial products.

Beyond the patents, we’ve also heard several rumors claiming Apple is not only trying new form factors out but even working on novel ideas to protect the phone better. One of the more novel concepts is a special feature that would automatically detect when a phone is falling. The phone would then immediately start shutting the hinge. Whether this could actually work fast enough to be practical remains seen, but it’s certainly a cool idea.

Obviously, we have no idea what a foldable or flippable iPhone might look like, but there are a few rumors and patents that help paint a possible picture.

What would an iPhone Flip or foldable look like?

 

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims Apple is testing various display sizes, including a 9-inch display that could fold in half. However, this would likely be branded as an iPad, not an iPhone. Additionally, Kuo says the company is working on a foldable iPhone with a display as large as 8 inches. That’s just a bit larger than the 7.3 inch screen found on the Samsung Galaxy Fold 4. It’s also nearly as large as the 8.3 inch iPad Mini. There have also been rumors that LG may be working with Apple on testing a smaller 7.5-OLED panel as well. None of these screens are nearly as small as the one found in the Z Flip 4, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Apple isn’t testing other sizes too.

We also can’t say if Apple will go with a form factor that will fold in half like a book like the Fold 5, or something that flips in half like the Z Flip 5. For what it’s worth, Apple has a few patents for both styles. Recently we learned of a patent for a design that’s not too dissimilar from the Galaxy Flip series. Additionally, Apple has a patent for something more like the Microsoft Surface Duo with two screens that connect together via a hinge but are technically separate panels.

foldable apple patent
US Patent Office

Apple often iterates on existing concepts, even if it tends to get credit for being “the first”. But what about truly unique designs? There are at least a few that aren’t quite like anything else. As you can see from the image above, one possibility is a phone that folds in half but leaves a small portion for notifications and other information. This would arguably make the display much less durable. We are glad to see that Apple is at least exploring its options. Apple even has an older patent for a tri-folding device and another for a single-screen device that can attach a secondary display via magnets.

As you can see, there are a lot of avenues Apple can take in designing a foldable phone.

When might we expect an iPhone flip release date to be announced?

In 2022 we heard claims we could see an iPhone flip or foldable come in 2023. Obviously, this never happened. Most industry analysts have moved their predictions forward substantially, suggesting a foldable or flippable iPhone is at least a year away. Notable analysts like Ming-Chi Kuo say 2025 is probably the most likely release year. Even then, it’s very probable Apple’s first foldable won’t be an actual iPhone-branded product.

Apple may want to let the market mature before making a foldable iPhone

iphone 14 pro vs galaxy z flip 4 cameras
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
Galaxy Z Flip 4 (left), iPhone 14 Pro (right)

Apple is often cautious when it comes to adapting new technology. It does this for several reasons. One, the price of new technology is often prohibitive, and Apple already charges a premium. If Apple had jumped into the foldable game as early as Samsung, the phone likely would have cost hundreds more than the competition. Second, new technology is often not the most reliable. Although Samsung’s foldables have improved greatly, there are reports from some users of dust getting into the phone, fragile displays that break easily, hinges that bend when dropped, and other similar complaints.

Apple typically waits until it is stable enough or popular enough that the investment is worth it. Let’s also be honest; fads come and go. Apple tends to only pick up product categories it believes will have staying power. For example, a little over a decade ago, many thought Apple was nuts for not diving into the netbook game. Foresight tells us they were right to hold off. With that in mind, a foldable iPad would be a much safer first bet.

A foldable iPad wouldn’t be designed to be carried everywhere, and its bigger size means it likely is easier to ensure a design that keeps it protected. We’ve already seen companies like Asus and Lenovo build intriguing foldable laptops, so there is a precedent for bigger screen devices.

Reports suggest foldable iPad is on its way next year

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported earlier this year that an iPad Mini with a foldable display and carbon fiber kickstand could arrive sometime in 2024. There have also been rumors suggesting Apple is experimenting with foldable display sizes as big as 20 inches. Even Samsung has allegedly chimed in on the possibility of a foldable iPad, claiming it will release a big screen foldable before attempting a folding iPhone. Considering they are one of the main foldable display manufacturers, this seems like a pretty trustworthy claim.

It’s unclear if this would be a typical iPad or if it would be billed as a hybrid that can also work as a traditional phone with full calling support. We also know very little about what design the company might settle on, though several reports are leaning towards something with a book-like design.

Bottom line, Apple is working on foldable tech. It’s just a matter of time. If we had to take a guess, we’d imagine their first attempt would be an iPad Mini-esque device that comes in both 5G/LTE and WiFi flavors. This would be a good way to test the waters before going after larger form factor foldable iPads or the elusive iPhone Flip.

What type of foldable do you think Apple should go after first?

462 votes

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