Apple Might Finally Be Working on That Foldable iPhone

A red iPhone 11 face down next to a Samsung folding phone that lies open, with the display on. Both lie on a marble countertop.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

When Samsung released the original Galaxy Fold last year, other companies were fast to follow suit. Motorola followed up quickly with its rebooted Razr, while Microsoft took a little longer to show off its folding Duo phone. Now, it seems Apple might be tinkering with making a foldable iPhone.

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In a post on Weibo, noted leaker Ice Universe claims Apple has ordered a number of foldable display samples from Samsung and even inquired about potentially signing a deal for an exclusive one-year supply of panels. In another tweet posted later on Twitter, Ice Universe claims that Apple is exploring both under-screen and foldable display technology as a way to transition away from the large camera notch seen on current iPhones.

Rumors that Apple has been working on some kind of foldable device have been swirling for the last year, with multiple contradicting reports. Back in 2018, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst claimed a folding iPhone could be coming as soon as this year. Jon Prosser claims that Apple isn’t working on a flexible screen device, but instead a dual-screen gadget that’s closer to the Surface Duo.

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As MacRumors noted, Samsung has been shipping samples of its folding screen technology to other phone-makers for a while—in the hopes of other companies ordering the tech for their own devices. This new order could be an indication of Apple further trialing the technology and folding devices. That’s the crucial and necessary step before a folding iPhone would hit stores.

The most interesting tidbit about a potential Apple foldable remains unknown: Which one of Samsung’s foldable displays will Apple actually use? Currently, Samsung uses two different styles of foldable screens in its gadgets. There are the large tablet-sized 7.3-inch and 7.6-inch flexible displays used in the Galaxy Fold and Z Fold 2, along with the smaller and more traditional 6.7-inch bendy display used in the Galaxy Z Flip.

Personally, I don’t see Apple’s first foldable screen device being anything like a standard iPhone, mostly because aside from making a bendy iPhone a bit more compact, the use of a smaller foldable screen doesn’t really add much to the overall experience. Instead, Apple could create something along the lines of the Z Fold 2, but with more of a focus on being a tablet instead of a phone, possibly as a future replacement to the iPad Mini, which currently has gone more than 500 days since its last refresh.

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Based on the pretty extreme thickness of current foldable gadgets, Apple’s designers could be concerned that a flexible-screen iPhone wouldn’t live up to the expectations of customers, which makes a foldable Apple device a better fit for the iPad line. But who knows! Apple could create a new family of devices positioned between the iPhone and iPad. That would make a lot of sense given the still somewhat experimental nature of foldable screen tech.

The other option would be for Apple to order a batch of flexible displays from Samsung featuring custom specs. This would be similar to what Apple did with the iPhone X, which featured a Samsung OLED display with a special cutout for the Face ID notch and different metrics for the panel’s brightness, color accuracy, and gamut compared to Samsung OLED displays used on that year’s Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones.

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In a way, this would be the most Apple-like solution, allowing other companies to test the waters with early foldable gadgets, with Apple following up with a potentially more refined product that’s better aligned with its own vision for the tech.

Sadly, it’s hard to say when a foldable gadget from Apple might arrive. It’s clear it won’t be this year, and while 2022 is probably the safest bet, with Ice Universe saying Apple could potentially sign a one-year supply deal soon, 2021 is not entirely out of the question.

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But that’s just me. If you’ve got your own thoughts sound off below, and if you have information about Apple’s plans, you can always reach out to me at sam.rutherford@gizmodo.com.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

ImALeafOnTheWind
ImALeafOnTheWind

IF this is true, that Apple might supplant the iPad Mini with a folding tablet, would be a day 1 order for me. I don’t want to replace my main phone, I do want a screen I can put in my other pocket that can unfold into iPad Mini size and tether to my main phone for data, though. I don’t care if it’s Android or iOS at that point - I have my important apps on both platforms.