Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo recently said that a foldable iPhone won’t surface until 2024. Apple does seem a bit late to the fold race as Samsung, Huawei, Motorola have already launched devices in the segment while others seem to be working on it as well.
A report by Phonearena suggests that Apple might be working on an iPhone with a foldable display that goes by a different name: a rollable screen. Rollable phones are handsets featuring foldable OLED screens that roll around one of the corners. We’ve already seen a few concepts, with the best one coming from Chinese smartphone maker Oppo.
Such expandable displays seem to be the next frontier for smartphone manufacturers as companies like Samsung and Xiaomi have received patents for phones with rollable or pullout displays.
In 2019, Samsung received a patent for a phone using a motorised “rolling mechanism” to expand the display from smartphone size to tablet size. Two weeks later, Samsung was issued a patent for a phone that allows the user to expand the size of the display by 50%. A 6-inch smartphone screen turns into a 9-inch tablet when the user pulls on the right side of the display to make it bigger.
As per the reports by PhoneArena, Apple’s new patent application includes a cross-section of a rollable iPhone. Inside the phone, the screen bends around a roller place inside the device. Apple notes in the patent application that “A portion of a flexible display may be stored in an interior region of the housing when the housing is in the unexpanded state. In the unexpanded state, the flexible display may have one or more bends and may double back on itself one or more times.”
The rollable iPhone
It has also been reported that Apple filed a new patent application this June that is a continuation of a patent awarded to Apple titled Electronic Devices Having Sliding Expandable Displays.
Sliding expandable displays is one other way to describe a rollable phone. The screen would roll towards the left or right, in which case. So you could say the screen is sliding as it’s expanding in size.
The fact that Apple filed a continuation document seems to suggest that Apple is really interested in this particular design type for future devices. The general language used in the patent might apply to foldable phone designs similar to what’s available from Android vendors.
But Apple’s drawings focus on a design that involves a rollable screen. When “folded,” a part of the rollable screen would sit inside the phone. When “unfolded,” the screen would slide out, rolling around an axis, alongside a portion of the phone’s frame. Apple envisions making the rollable phone better than a foldable phone.
Foldable vs Rollable phones
One advantage that a rollable iPhone would have over a foldable model is that it would not crease in the middle where the hinge is present. But Apple would still have to ensure the sliding metal structure that supports the screen is durable enough to prevent damages.
But foldable displays already have access to more durable, bendable glass. It’s unclear whether we’ll ever get a glass that rolls to protect rollable displays. Then again, Apple might already have access to the kind of glass replacement that it could use inside foldable and rollable iPhone designs.
That said, there’s no guarantee that Apple is making a rollable iPhone anytime soon. But the patent further proves that Apple is researching phone-sized devices that can offer bigger screens. What if Apple makes a rollable iPhone that you could roll into an iPad mini-like device?
PhoneArena also reported that Apple recently filed a patent application pertaining to a foldable battery that would be used with its foldable phone. This battery would be placed near the foldable screen’s hinge.
Apple prefers using one foldable battery as opposed to using two separate rigid batteries for a foldable iPhone because it will be able to pack a larger capacity battery into the device. Additionally, the use of a foldable battery provides what Apple calls “mechanical flexibility” to the device.