New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

As Samsung and Huawei get closer to releasing their foldable phones, it looks like Apple could eventually follow suit too. The company has filed a patent for a device with a flexible display and a hinge — suggesting that Apple is at least exploring the possibility of building a flexible smartphone.

The patent shows a clamshell-style foldable phone that would be a little different from the others being developed. Really, it looks like a single-display device that can be folded up to better fit in someone’s pocket, rather than a device that can fold out to offer a larger display. Still, it’s the underlying technology that’s important here — not really the form-factor of the device in the patent images — so it’s likely that an eventual device would take a slightly different form factor.

In the patent, Apple describes the use of a hinge based on a three-bar linkage or a four-bar linkage. The patent also notes that flexible displays could be mounted to the housing of the device, overlapping the hinges and essentially hiding them from view. With that, the display could bend — thus creating a device with a flexible display.

The patent itself is a continuation of a number of different patents, dating all the way back to 2011 — which is obviously well before the concept of a foldable phone was even relevant. Because of this, it makes sense that the images would look a little strange — ultimately, the underlying technology is likely still relevant, even if the way the tech may be used isn’t as important going forward.

The patent also notes the use of tech like an OLED display, and mentions that the two sides of the device would be largely separate, joined only by the hinge and the flexible display. In other words, there wouldn’t necessarily be a chipset or other tech that runs through both sections of the phone.

It will certainly be interesting to see whether Apple embraces the foldable phone trend or not. A number of rumors about an Apple foldable phone have started popping up, and analysts have even suggested that an Apple-branded foldable phone may be released as soon as 2020.

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