Apple is reportedly testing a color E Ink display that would be used as an external screen on an upcoming foldable device, says a trusted Apple analyst.
Let’s step on the brakes, and take this a few words at a time, shall we? First, there’s Apple, a company known for taking a measured approach to new technologies. Then color E Ink, which is still being perfected. And finally, an upcoming foldable device, which has been rumored but is not something we’re exiting anytime soon.
This is the sort of claim that would make you chuckle and shake your head, and I would have done the same had it not come from one of the few consistently reliable Apple analysts in Ming-Chi Kuo. In a tweet, he wrote, “The color EPD [Electronic Paper Display] has the potential to become a mainstream solution for foldable devices’ must-have cover/second screen thanks to its excellent power-saving.”
Using an E Ink display could help Apple distinguish its rumored foldable from existing products, like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold or Oppo Find N. Most foldable devices either don’t have an external screen or they use a standard OLED panel. The problem with the former is that you can’t use the device folded, while the latter is more convenient but drains the battery. Using color E Ink, assuming it works as well as everyone hopes, could give you some, if not most, of the functionality of an OLED panel while conserving battery life.
This is to say, yes, a foldable phone with an E Ink panel could solve some of the remaining issues facing this nascent product segment. It could also—and this is where I’m placing my chips—be something Apple tests, determines isn’t viable, and scraps. Whether you’re buying this E Ink component, rumors of a foldable iPhone shouldn’t be discounted.
Foldable iPhone rumors have circulated the web since 2016, when LG was said to be mass-producing flexible smartphone screens for companies like Apple, though subsequent rumors point to Samsung as the display supplier. In any case, claims from reliable analysts and leakers gave credence to speculation that Apple could release a foldable smartphone.
Kuo said last year that while the development of a foldable iPhone hadn’t begun, Apple is experimenting with both an 8-inch foldable device with a flexible OLED panel and a 9-inch foldable product. Kuo thinks Apple will introduce the phone in 2025 at the earliest. Bloomberg also chimed in, reporting that Apple is “exploring” a 20-inch foldable iPad/MacBook hybrid.
Then there is the other elephant in the room: the colored E Ink display. They do exist...somewhere. TCL revealed its NXTPAPER in 2020, claiming 65% better power efficiency over a standard LCD. Then it was radio silence until this year’s CES, when TCL unveiled the NXTPAPER 10s, a colorful E Ink tablet that will skip the US market.
E Ink, the brand, recently announced its E Ink Gallery 3, a new color E Ink technology that can show 50,000 different colors through a four-particle (cyan, magenta, yellow and white) ink system. The new display tech can be rolled or folded.
Who knows, maybe combining these two budding technologies—foldable displays and color E Ink—could be a stroke of genius that solves the smartphone battery life conundrum?
Update 5/17/22: This article originally said we had not seen color E Ink, which is inaccurate. Gizmodo has reviewed several color devices with official E Ink displays.