As durable as smartphones have become, they can still be defeated by something as simple as a drop. That’s especially true of the best foldable phones, whose flexible screens don’t offer the same level of durability as their non-folding counterparts. But it sounds like the rumored Apple iPhone Flip could have a novel way of protecting itself from a potentially-disastrous tumble.
A newly-revealed Apple patent details a feature called “Self-Retracting Display Device And Techniques For Protecting Screen Using Drop Detection." Which, in typical patent style, is a pretty literal description of what this hypothetical feature could offer — a way for the iPhone Flip to protect the screen when it realizes it’s been dropped.
How iPhone Flip's drop protection could work
According to the patent the system would detect when the phone has been dropped and either fold or retract the display to protect it from damage. How it would work seems to depend on what kind of device we’re talking about, with the patent covering rollable and foldable devices.
In terms of a foldable device the phone would begin to close when a drop is detected. Apparently that involves a mechanism on the hinge that forces it to release, and start closing the phone.
The drop-protection system wouldn’t necessarily have to snap the phone shut though. The description notes that ensuring the phone is partially shut, and the hinge angle under 180 degrees, can offer additional protection. Because the shift in balance means the phone is far more likely to land on its sides or corners rather than the display.
A rollable phone is a little easier to visualize, since their screens already have a mechanism in place for expanding and retracting the display. Should a drop be detected that mechanism will simply start pulling the screen back in — protecting the more fragile components from damage.
Of course, the rollable phone concepts unveiled so far — such as the rollable phone Lenovo introduced at MWC 2023 (opens in new tab) — have pretty slow mechanisms, and are unlikely to have fully retracted before they hit the ground. So that will rely on Apple developing a rollable display that can work significantly faster than what we've seen.
Will we see this feature on iPhone Flip?
Unfortunately, patents are just ideas, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll ever materialize in a product you can purchase. But this isn’t a particularly outlandish patent, and the idea that a foldable or rollable device could instinctively try to protect itself from damage is a pretty cool concept.
That’s particularly true when you consider the high price tags associated with foldable phones, and what you might have to pay for an Apple version. The last thing you’ll want is to deal with the cost or hassle of repairing a broken screen.
Reports suggest the iPhone Flip could launch sometime in 2023 or 2024, but there’s no guarantee that the device will be arriving anytime soon. However, should it ever materialize at your local Apple Store, it would be fantastic if Apple can make this drop-protecting patent a reality.