Is Apple Working on a Foldable iPhone?

Recent leaks suggest Apple might be planning a foldable smartphone for 2022.

Apple is notoriously tight-lipped about forthcoming products, but very regular with its release schedules. The latest iPhones are unveiled every September, and we’ve no reason to believe this will change any time soon, but how they will differ from the current iPhone range is a matter for speculation.

According to the Apple rumour mill, a forthcoming top-of-the range iPhone might feature a foldable screen, as seen in current competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 and Huawei Mate Xs, but not until 2022 at the earliest; we’re unlikely to get a folding iPhone with the 2021 refresh.

The forthcoming foldable iPhone is said to be called the iPhone Flip, and will feature a flexible version of the new ceramic shield display that debuted with the iPhone 12. It’s said to feature a single foldable screen rather than two individual displays like the ZTE Axon M or the LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen. Whether the iPhone Flip’s screen folds horizontally or vertically isn’t known for sure, but its name would suggest the latter.

An Apple patent titled ‘Hybrid coverlay/window structure for flexible display applications’ suggests the foldable screen will have four-layers; a cover layer, a hardcoat layer, an inner surface and a transparent support layer. The website Economic Daily News claims the screens are already being tested at Foxconn in Taiwan, a key Apple manufacturing supplier. These tests are said to involve opening and closing the phone over 100,000 times, making sure the screen doesn’t crease or distort with continual use. Another leak, this time from supply chain sources in Asia, claim that two prototypes have now passed this strenuous test.

folding iphone

Which way the folding iPhone opens isn’t yet known. The name ‘iPhone Flip’ would suggest a clamshell design with a horizontal fold across the screen, but this is far from final. Rumour has it that one of the two prototypes under consideration has a clamshell form factor, while the other opens like a book, with the fold dividing the screen vertically. A clamshell iPhone would offer a screen of a similar size and dimensions as a regular iPhone, but would fold down to a smaller size to better fit the handbag or pocket. A book-type fold would suggest the phone would be a similar size to a standard model when folded, but offer a bigger screen when open. This is all speculation, of course, but it will be interesting to see which Apple goes for.

It’s rumoured that Samsung – whose folding display for the first-generation Galaxy Fold proved notoriously unreliable – is to make the screens for Apple, and is involved with the prototype tests. This isn’t as unlikely as it sounds, as Samsung often makes displays for other mobile phone manufacturers.

The screen technology for the folding iPhone is likely to be either OLED, as used in the 12-series iPhones, or mini LED, which is rumoured to debut with some of this year’s mobile devices. We assume both are being tested, with a decision to be made on which to use made after their performance has been assessed.

The Android foldable smartphones available today aren’t cheap, and Apple’s rumoured release is likely no exception. Could it be the first iPhone to top the £2000 price point? Perhaps we’ll find out in the Autumn of 2022.

But what about this year’s iPhones? What can we expect in September 2021? We anticipate the iPhone 13 (if it’s so-called) will offer a similar range to the iPhone 12, that is, four new phones consisting of two 6.1-inch models, a 6.7-inch phablet, and a 5.4-inch phone. A portless design has been suggested, with the Lightning port gone and charging restricted to Qi and MagSafe chargers. It’s also been suggested that the ‘notch’ on the top of the screen, which houses the front-facing cameras and sensors, will be much reduced in size but we’ve heard this rumour before and nothing came of it. Component upgrades are expected to include a new A15 processor (a no-brainer), an upgraded 5G chip and a 120Hz ‘ProMotion’ screen. New camera features are likely too.

A new version of the iPhone SE is also rumoured. According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, it will be called the ‘iPhone SE Plus’ and will feature a full-face 6.1-inch screen and be unlocked with Touch ID under the side button rather than Face ID, like the latest iPad Air.

We’ve also heard at least one new iPhone model will feature both Face ID and Touch ID, with the fingerprint sensor under the screen rather than on a Home button. We’d have appreciated this in 2020, when wearing face masks outdoors made Face ID unreliable. Recent leaks suggest Apple might be planning a foldable smartphone for 2022.

So which of these rumours and leaks will prove accurate, and which are just idle speculation? As always, we’ll have to wait and see.

Ian Osborne

Ian has worked on computer and video games magazines since the legendary Crash and Zzap! 64 in the early Nineties, so he’s seen many changes over the years (including an expanding waistline and receding hairline). A lifelong Mac user, he bought his first Mac in the year 2000. It’s a testament to the resilience of the Mac that his mother is still using that computer to this very day.

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