Available on US Patent and Trademark Office website (opens in new tab), the application is called self-retracting display device and screen protection techniques using fall detection. Quite a mouthful, but it succinctly describes how Apple can aim to minimize damage to the screen. As described, the device will have some kind of sensor inside like an accelerometer. If it detects that the iPhone is dropped, the sensor will signal an “electronically adjustable locking mechanism” to quickly close the phone.
The application suggests that the mechanism may not close completely if the iPhone is too close to the ground, leaving it partially open. But that’s fine, since according to the patent “even folding the screen to an angle less (than) 180 degrees can (still) provide some protection”. At least the impact will be on the pages instead of directly on the screen.
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Another angle Apple is looking at in the application is the hinge. The foldable iPhone could consist of two separate screens that connect to each other when the device is unfolded instead of having a normal hinge in the middle. So when the phone is closed, the top screen detaches from the bottom, which is supposed to help with protection. It’s hard to say for sure because the document doesn’t describe exactly how things will work. Rather, the application explains how things can work on the phone.
Large parts of the patent document talk about the possibilities of the foldable iPhone. For example, the sensor behind the fall protection may consist of “accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses and/or other components” to detect movement. However, Apple does not directly point to any specific technology. Most importantly for the company, the internal mechanisms are able to detect when the rate of fall “exceeds a predetermined threshold” to automatically shut down. Whether the device is actually able to detect a drop fast enough to close completely remains to be seen.
Rumors of a foldable iPhone has been circulating the internet for about three years now. During that time, other patents have leaked and we’ve seen the device concept change in real time. One design “had two hinges for a hypothetical three screens” so the phone could be folded into a Z-shaped formation. While another prototype experimented with an electronic paper screen. However, don’t hold your breath on the “iPhone Fold” coming out anytime soon. That latest leak points to a 2025 release so you have plenty of time to save up for what will likely be a very expensive smartphone.
If you want some now, check out TechRadar’s list above best foldable phones for 2023.