Patents Reveal Apple Could Be Working on Clamshell Foldable With an Interesting Hinge Design: Report

While Samsung leads the pack when it comes to foldable smartphones, there is growing interest from Chinese smartphone brands in the same market segment with every new release. While a foldable iPhone has been in the rumour mill for a while, we are now starting to get more information that Apple could be working on a foldable iPhone even though recent rumours hinted that Apple would begin with a foldable iPad instead.

May 6, 2024 - 16:45
Patents Reveal Apple Could Be Working on Clamshell Foldable With an Interesting Hinge Design: Report

Compared to what other smartphone brands have on offer, Apple seems to be far behind the competition when it comes to foldables. The Cupertino giant has yet to launch or even showcase its first ever foldable device with a folding display while other brands have at least one foldable model in their existing lineup of smartphones. Recent rumours have pointed out that Apple is working on bigger foldable devices, with the latest report pointing towards the development of a foldable MacBook laptop with a 20-inch display. A more recent report pointed out that Apple's iPhone has been delayed to 2027 and even goes on to claim that Vision Pro staff have now been directed to work on the foldable device instead. Now, an older patent which was filed last year, has been published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), suggesting that Apple is indeed working on clamshell foldable designs.

The patent (US 20240147644 A1) was filed in October last year and was published by the USPTO on May 2, 2024. According to a report by Patently Apple, which was the first to bring these details to light, Apple has a very interesting hinge design for what seems to be meant for a smaller or compact foldable, which in Apple's case could be a Plus or a Max-sized iPhone or an iPad Mini. To make things crystal clear, Apple does refer to the device in question as something that could be a cellular phone, a computer, or a portable electronic device.

Every foldable device in existence today relies on a reliable hinge mechanism and a foldable display. Apple's designs appear to be similar to what most smartphone manufacturers have currently achieved with their foldables. This would include the two halves of the chassis held together by synchronised gear plates with interlocked teeth to guide the opening and closing mechanism and protect the inner folding display. The foldable device according to the diagrams seems to be held together using interconnected links (like the metal links of a metal watch bracelet) with restricting rotation. The mechanism in these interconnecting links seems to be far more complex compared to what most manufacturers have in place today.

A quick glance also shows that Apple's hinge design due to its complexity does seem substantially thicker than what's available on most foldable smartphones today. And given how thick it seems from the patent's diagrams, it could indeed make more sense in a foldable iPad than in an iPhone, which points back at older rumours about Apple working on a foldable iPad instead of a foldable iPhone.

Designing a hinge for a larger tablet or even a laptop would also reduce Apple's challenges compared to designing one for an iPhone as most tablets and computers don't require stricter IP ratings, which some manufacturers have only partially struggled with so far. Samsung's currently available Galaxy Z Fold 5 (Review) for example offers an IPX8 rating (which offers minimal protection against dust and debris) while its regular smartphones offer a proper IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.

Apple unveiled its first mixed reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro, at its annual developer conference, along with new Mac models and upcoming software updates. We discuss all the most important announcements made by the company at WWDC 2023 on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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