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article imageThe next iPhone could fold in two

By James Walker     Feb 3, 2017 in Technology
Apple could be planning to unveil a folding iPhone with an OLED screen, patent filings have revealed over the past few months. It could form the basis of a radical new design designed to rival upcoming folding handsets from Samsung and LG.
Patents granted to Apple for a folding mobile device were uncovered back in November. More material has since come to light that suggests Apple is developing technology that could let future iPhones bend in half.
The phone would feature a flexible display and a fabric housing. There would be two operation modes, a folded phone form and an expanded tablet experience. Unfolding the phone would create a 7-inch tablet, essentially a mini iPad.
The flexible screen uses OLED technology, light emitting diodes that can organically produce light. This enables it to be twisted without experiencing damage, unlike traditional LED or LCD panels.
The patent published in November suggests Apple will also use a number of other flexible components, including an elastic metal support structure made from a nickel and titanium alloy. Internally, the phone would be split into two distinct levels, separating the hardware components and allowing the device to be folded without breaking any connections.
Although rumours of folding iPhones may seem farfetched today, Apple isn't the only company experimenting with the idea. After years of development and multiple public concept videos, Samsung is believed to be on the cusp of commercialising its flexible display technology.
The South Korean manufacturer is widely expected to launch its first folding smartphone later in 2017, most likely before any effort from Apple reaches the market. The device will be followed by a handset from LG, using the same technology. The companies may have a hard time trying to convince consumers to adopt the concept though. As a first-generation and rather novel product, it may be hard to get off the ground.
Nevertheless, interest in folding tech is growing across the industry. In January, a Microsoft patent filing for a smartphone capable of unfolding into a tablet was discovered. The company appears to have patented what Samsung plans to unveil later in the year. It's possible Microsoft intends to build its own folding phone, potentially redefining the term "convertible" again with the long-rumoured Surface Phone.
Future Google phones may feature flexible displays too, owing to a deal reportedly struck with LG subsidiary LG Display. Like Samsung, LG already has functioning prototypes to show off to phone manufacturers. Apple and Microsoft are also thought to be sourcing panels from the company.
It's still a few months away yet but the future of mobile innovation appears to be in radical new form factors that were undreamt of only a few years ago. With Google, Microsoft and even the usually conservative Apple seemingly on-board, soon every phone could be a folding fabric tablet.
More about iPhone, Flexible displays, Samsung, Lg, OLED
 
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