When can we expect Apple’s Foldable; if at all?

A deep dive into reports about Apple's rumored foldable iPhone.

Foldable phones have become the next big thing since Samsung started mass-producing its now popular Galaxy Z Fold series. As soon as that happened, reports and rumours about Apple’s foldable project appeared on the interwebs. But to be fair, Apple has been scooping up patents with regards to foldables since 2016. However, the buzz around it has increased in 2020 as a report from the Chinese supply chain came in that Apple had sent foldable iPhones to Foxconn for testing purposes. We look at these reports and what we could possibly expect from such an alleged Apple project and how it could affect the newly-created foldable category. 

Apple Foldable: What to expect?

In as early as 2016, rumours had it that LG Display would be supplying foldable displays to not only Apple but also Google for production in 2018. Yet another similar rumour crept up in 2017 indicating the same supplier as there was speculation about an Apple foldable that looks like a book and a second design that rolls like a newspaper. However, 2018, came to pass and nothing fruitful came to pass, as we know it. 

In the meanwhile Apple was granted several patents that hint the Cupertino giant’s interest in the new form-factor. The first was a pretty straight forward foldable design that bends from the centre. To be precise, it was inward folding screen with not just one but even two hinges. 

A patent in 2020 showed an impressive design with a hinge developed to mitigate the ever-present crease on foldables. A picture speaks more than a thousand words, so here’s what that looks like. 

But here’s something you might not like. One particular patent granted just back in March shows a foldable that is not very much a foldable. Instead, it is two devices put together closely, to act as one. Picture it as something similar to Microsoft’s Surface Duo. However, patents are just patents until a company plans to bring them to the real world. Hence, there’s no way to know which of these could be used as of now. 

Now while this patent is the one that most people will be least impressed to see, latest leaks hint that Apple is indeed working on one such device. As per well-known Apple leaker and YouTuber, Jon Prosser, Apple has a prototype of an iPhone that has two separate displays. These displays, as per his tweet, are pretty close to give onlookers a seamless feel. The YouTuber has had a history of accurate leaks in the past but it is possible that he sees only part of the picture. Companies are known to play with several prototypes of a new form factor before they decide on the most suitable commercial model. The split-screen design could be one of them. 

The more promising report came in just a few days back when Taiwanese media firm Money.udn.com cited supply chain sources to report that Apple is indeed working on bringing its first foldable iPhone in 2022. As per that report, Samsung will supply the screens as well as bearings for the hinge along with Nippon Nippon. If this report is to be believed, then we can expect a true foldable phone to be in the works, although the report doesn’t really touch on the subject of the foldable’s design. 

Foxconn has reportedly sent testing samples of new foldable designs to Apple, as per a fresh report. The iPhone maker is evaluating the use of OLED or microOLED panels. Furthermore, hinges will be supplied by current Apple supplier New Nikko, the same company that supplies MacBook hinges to Apple. 

When can we expect Apple’s foldable, if at all?

Well, for what it’s worth, the recent supply chain source report from Economic Daily claims that Apple is being sent samples of folding phones from its Chinese suppliers including Foxconn and New Nikko. According to the report, a commercial product can be expected in late 2020. However, even these projections are not to be taken too seriously as there isn’t enough concrete evidence about the exact state of affairs with regards to the Apple foldable. And if 2020 is exactly the year to watch, then this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Apple foldable. There should hopefully be more encouraging information in the coming months. 

When Apple does make a foldable, it will obviously be a polished product properly tested to withhold regular use. It should bring foldables into the limelight, as has been the case a number of times with previous new technologies. That should give foldables a big push to go mainstream. Currently, foldables are a niche category that is both too expensive and delicate for the average user. There are just a couple of smartphone makers that have a successful commercial product, namely Samsung and Motorola. With mounting evidence that Apple is working on a product, all that should change soon.

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