Over the past few months, the most exciting thing in smartphone news has been Samsung’s foldable ‘Galaxy X’ – an all-new product category that has the potential to transform mobile computing. In response, Apple appears to be fast-tacking plans to release a rival product of its own. No, really.
The US Patent and Trademark Office just awarded a new foldable phone patent to Apple with a curious magnetic hinge. In other words, the battle is on. Here are the details.
As spotted by the wily clerks at Patently Apple, Apple has been granted a second patent for a folding iPhone. This time, the patent focuses on a flexible hinge that uses magnets to secure the phone in place when folded. This would allow it to double in size when needed – just like the Samsung Galaxy X.
The patent also deals with the use of fabric for the housing and a “third display portion” that would presumably come into play when the iPhone is folded. (The two primary screens will face toward each other when folded, blocking access.)
Here are the relevant patent extracts:
Patent Claim #1: An electronic device, comprising: a housing having first and second housing portions; a flexible hinge coupled between the first and second housing portions, wherein the flexible hinge flexes to allow the first housing portion to rotate relative to the second housing portion; a flexible display mounted to the housing, wherein the flexible display has a first display portion mounted to the first housing portion and a second display portion mounted to the second housing portion, wherein the flexible display is movable between a planar position in which the first and second display portions are coplanar and a folded position in which the first display portion is parallel to the second display portion, and wherein when the flexible display is in the folded position, the first and second display portions face away from each other in opposite directions; and a support structure interposed between the flexible display and the housing, wherein the support structure comprises a material selected from the group consisting of: metal, polymer, and shape memory alloy.
Patent Claim #12: An electronic device comprising: a foldable housing having a flexible portion, wherein the flexible portion flexes to allow the foldable housing to move between open and closed positions; and a foldable display mounted to the foldable housing, wherein the foldable display has first and second display portions separated by a third display portion, wherein the third display portion overlaps the flexible portion of the housing, wherein the first and second display portions face toward each other when the foldable housing is in the closed position, wherein the first and second display portions face away from each other when the foldable housing is in the open position, and wherein the flexible portion of the housing comprises fabric.
And here’s Apple’s accompanying image of potential flexible displays:
Interesting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree! As Patently Apple points out, this is just a utility patent, which means the final design could change substantially. Nevertheless, the fact that Apple has been granted this patent so soon after Samsung’s announcement suggests that a folding iPhone might not be as far off as we thought. (Previous reports had pointed to a release date “several years” after 2020.)
Meanwhile, Huawei, LG and Lenovo are all working on flexible OLEDs of their own. We can’t wait to see what each manufacturer comes up with. 2019 is shaping up to be the year of the folding smartphone – and Apple fans might be invited.
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[Via Tom’s Guide]