Rumours of a folding iPhone have been swirling for years now. An Apple handset that folds would obviously be huge news in the world of mobile phones, and according to recent leaks, Apple is indeed exploring such a device. And when Apple throws its huge resources into a project, the rest of the mobile world sits up and takes notice.
So what would a folding iPhone do? How far along is Apple’s development? When could we see it? And how much would it cost? We’ll sort through the rumours, leaks, industry trends and hearsay to bring you the ultimate lowdown on whether a folding iPhone will ever see the light of day.
Folding phones: what’s the current situation?
Folding phones aren’t all that new. Samsung, Motorola, Microsoft and Huawei have all launched models in recent years, some of which have been highly praised by critics. (The Microsoft Surface Duo – which came to the UK recently – springs to mind.) But they’re yet to really take off.
That’s down to two things: price and reliability.
The first generation of any technology is always prohibitively expensive, and folding phones are no different. With prices regularly topping £1000, the first tranche of handsets have been unaffordable to all but the most minted of phone fans. While prices have been coming down gradually, you won’t see foldables knocking around the bargain bin anytime soon.
The first models were also criticised for their build quality, with the folding screens and necessary hinges proving less that resilient to even rudimentary testing. Again, designs have improved, but it’s been a slow road to get where we are: the first foldables from big players like Samsung launched over two years ago. But mention folding phones to most people and you’ll be met with a shrug.
What could a folding iPhone do?
Image from EverythingApplePro
Which is a shame, because the tech has enormous potential. Folding phones are basically two-in-one devices. While closed, they look just like regular smartphones, but unfold them and they open up to reveal much larger screens – usually around 7 or 8 inches. That’s the size of a small tablet.
In other words, you could quite happily use your foldable as a regular smartphone most of the time, than unfurl it for big-screen tasks as and when – to navigate using a mapping app, say, or even to watch a film.
The bigger screen real estate also has great potential for multitasking, like scrolling your Twitter feed while watching a TV show or film. Great for posting those snarky comments during Masterchef.
Is Apple making a folding iPhone?
The rumours suggest so. While rumours concerning a folding iPhone have been circulating for years in some form or another, a few have been consistent with each other in recent months, and some have been from very well respected sources. It all adds up to a steady drumbeat that’s hard to ignore.
The first inkling came just over a year ago, in February 2020. Back then, an Apple patent emerged for a hinge technology (spotted by MacRumors) that could well be used in a foldable iPhone.
The patent describes a device that “may have a flexible display that overlaps an axis... the housing may be placed in an unfolded configuration to support the display in a planar state. The housing may also be placed in a folded configuration by rotating the first and second portions relative to each other”.
Sounds like a foldable phone to us.
Image from EverythingApplePro
The patent also featured movable flaps on the hinge to prevent the screen from being creased when folded. This was an issue with some early foldables like the Huawei Mate X and Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Fast forward to this year, and the rumours gather pace considerably. Back in January, Bloomberg reported that Apple had started making prototype folding screens for use in such a device. These screens would have a "mostly invisible hinge" according to the report, and could unfold to the size of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. However, Apple is said to be testing multiple screen sizes.
Also in January, sources in the Asian supply chain claimed to a Taiwanese website that two prototype foldable Apple phones had passed durability testing. That would mean Apple was happy that they could live up to the wear and tear that a foldable device would be subjected to over its life.
One of these is reportedly a clamshell device (remember those?), while the other is a dual screen device similar in style to the Microsoft Surface Duo.
This was joined by yet another Apple patent showing yet another hinge mechanism. This one would rotate through 360 degrees, allowing the phone to fold flat both ways (i.e. inwards and outwards, like a spiral notepad).
But perhaps the biggest rumour of all came just last week from Ming-Chi Kuo. You may not have heard of him, but with his excellent track record of accurate predictions, he’s pretty much the authority on Apple’s future plans – as close to an Apple soothsayer as they come. So when he starts mentioning a folding iPhone, your ears should prick up.
According to a note to investors (that was obtained by MacRumors), Kuo said the folding device could launch in 2023, and have a screen between 7.5 and 8 inches in size.
However, Kuo was keen to point out that the device was still in the prototype stage, and that while a 2023 launch date was possible, Apple could easily decide it wasn’t a viable product and pull the plug on it at any time.
Folding iPhone release date
As regular as clockwork, Apple launches its new iPhone range every autumn. So could we see a folding iPhone this year? Some analysts think so.
Last summer, Apple was rumoured to be sending prototype folding devices to Foxconn, its Chinese manufacturing partner. Foxconn would be tasked with stress testing the devices in order to report back to Apple on its progress. And Taiwanese site DigiTimes has reported that Apple has partnered with LG to supply folding screens for a foldable device.
So while 2023 is looking more likely, optimists have their fingers crossed for a foldable iPhone to launch sooner.
Folding iPhone price
How much would a folding iPhone cost? A lot, is the short answer.
Image from EverythingApplePro
Folding phones demand a premium because of the complex mechanisms required to make them work. Not only are there complicated and robust hinges to factor in, there are potentially folding screens too. And all of this has to be researched and developed at great cost to the manufacturer.
Add to that the fact that Apple specialises in premium devices, and we’ll be looking at a price tag of at least £1,300. Of course, if Apple decided that most people wouldn’t pay that, it could always scrap the project before it reached the shop shelves.
Will Apple make a folding iPhone?
The jury is still out. A folding iPhone has been rumoured ever since the first folding devices started emerging, but a lot of that was pure hope and speculation on the part of the fanboys. But considering the steady stream of recent leaks and patents, and the fact that the Apple authority himself Ming-Chi Kuo has weighed in on the issue, it’s looking more likely than ever that Apple is at least researching the device.
Will it ever reach us consumers though? A lot will have to go right both in the research and testing phase, and in the wider market. No doubt Apple is watching the likes of the Microsoft Surface Duo to see how it fares with great interest indeed...