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iPhone Flip: Everything we know about Apple's foldable phone plans

Foldable iPhone leaks
(Image credit: #iOS Beta News/YouTube)

The iPhone Flip isn't in Apple's immediate plans — but those plans have a way of changing over time. No, you won't see a foldable iPhone this fall alongside the debut of the iPhone 13. And June's Worldwide Developers Conference came and went without even a hint of a foldable phone in Apple's near-term future.

Still, Apple is undoubtedly interested in challenging foldable phones from Samsung, Motorola and others with a device of its own. And we've seen the patents to prove it.

Those patents, along with concept drawings from independent designers, give us clues about what an iPhone Flip might look like. Predicting an actual release date is little more than a guessing game at this point, though. Given Apple's history of perfecting technologies that others pioneer, you can be sure that when an iPhone Flip does arrive, it will be in a more polished form than the foldable phones we've seen thus far.

We've compiled the latest reports and concepts in this iPhone Flip guide. Over time, we hope to gain a clearer picture of what is sure to be the most revolutionary iPhone yet when it finally does see the light of day.

iPhone Flip release date

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicts that the first foldable iPhone will launch in 2023. He expects Apple to ship an impressive 20 million units in the first year. 

A separate report from Digitimes suggested that the iPhone Flip could arrive a year earlier in 2022, but Apple leaker Jon Prosser claimed that 2022 was too optimistic, and that the iPhone Flip won't be arriving until much later. 

iPhone Flip display size

Ming-Chi Kuo goes on to say that the first foldable iPhone will have a huge display measuring 8 inches. That would be larger than the rumored Galaxy Z Fold 3 (rumors point to a display between 7 and 7.7 inches) and also bigger than the current iPad mini (7.9 inches). 

iPhone Flip design: What will it look like?

According to Jon Prosser, Apple has tested two different kinds of iPhone Flip: a fold-out hybrid tablet, similar to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, and a clamshell flip phone design akin to the Galaxy Z Flip range. Those sources also claim Apple will be going ahead with the clamshell design, though it is still early in the development process and there's a chance things could change.

Patent filings also reveal some of the things Apple may be considering for its foldable, including any future devices that might skip the clamshell design in favor of something else.

(Image credit: USPTO)

Last year, we became aware of another Apple patent describing a "joint operating mode" which would allow a single-screen device to be supplemented by a magnetically-connected secondary display. In theory, this mode would allow independent devices to join to comprise one shared space, which doesn't really pertain to the whole singular foldable panel idea. It's more Microsoft Surface Duo than Samsung Galaxy Fold.

(Image credit: USPTO)

Yet another patent, originally filed in the second quarter of 2018 and subsequently unearthed by PatentlyApple, depicts a device with a flexible display that folds closed yet still leaves a small strip at the bottom exposed for easy access to notifications and contextual information. Think of it like a miniature Touch Bar, similar to what's available on the MacBook Pro.

If we go back to beyond last year, we can see earlier musings on foldable designs from Apple, including a patent for a tri-folding display. And if we extend even further back to 2016, we can see one of the earliest foldable iPhone patents, courtesy of MacRumors, depicting a vertically-folding handset similar in orientation to the Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola Razr.

All that feeds the imagination of designers who post concept renderings depicting possible looks for the iPhone Flip/Fold. Take this 3D mockup posted by a YouTube account called #iOS beta news which looks a little bit like a Galaxy Z Flip copycat, down to its slim bezels, centrally-positioned hole-punch camera cutout, minimal exterior display and vertical orientation. It's a design we could envision Apple actually releasing, at least with more fine tuning beyond the rough idea presented here.

iphone flip concept

iPhone Flip concept (Image credit: Technizo Concept/LetsGoDigital)

Another iPhone Flip concept design from LetsGoDigital features a smaller notch and external cover display in addition to a folding screen.

When Apple's first foldable iPhone takes shape, Cupertino won't be able to go it alone. Over the last three years, we've heard competing rumors that Apple has been in talks with both LG and Samsung to supply the flexible displays for whatever device it ultimately winds up launching. In March 2019, it was reported by Korean media (via MacRumors) that Samsung Display sent Apple panel samples for analysis.

But what if Apple didn't go with a flexible display for its first folding iPhone, and opted instead for a dual-panel approach like the Surface Duo? That's a possibility posed by Jon Prosser of Front Page Tech, who suggested Cupertino has prototyped such a design. Prosser says this device retains the iPhone 11's rounded appearance — remember, the iPhone 12 re-introduced flat edges to Apple's lineup — but incorporates a hinge, and that the two separate screens come together fairly seamlessly when outstretched.

iPhone Flip display

(Image credit: USPTO)

iPhone Flip: Durability

We saw a patent last October which suggests the iPhone Flip could come with an upgraded version of the iPhone 12's ceramic shield. It would be specifically designed for a flexible display, and consist of four layers: a cover layer, a hardcoat layer, an inner surface, and a transparent support layer. That support layer could even be made of glass or sapphire for additional strength.

There's also been speculation that the display could "heal" itself thanks to a "self-healing material" layer that would minimize the appearance of scratched or dents.

There's no guarantee Apple will launch such a handset, of course, but Prosser's report reminds us that the firm's first foldable phone could play out a number of ways. While flexible panels are all the rage these days, dual-screen hardware could ultimately win out if Apple isn't enamored with the reliability, durability or cost of a device with a single, folding screen.

In February 2020, one Apple patent emerged that would theoretically allow the foldable display to bend in the middle without creating excessive stress on the panel. Inside the hinge, the screen would bow out in a sense, creating more of a gradual curve than a hard crease. The hope is that such a design would assist in durability and extend the life of the display. It's worth noting the Galaxy Z Flip actually incorporates a design not too dissimilar from this.

Apple has since filed a continuation patent that spells out ways of making the iPhone Flip more durable with the help of a crack-resistant display.

iPhone Flip price: What would it cost?

This is easily the toughest question to answer, both because price has never been a part of what few foldable iPhone rumors there are — another sign that the iPhone Flip will be shipping later rather than sooner — and because the device's cost will largely depend on how Apple approaches the design.

Consider that the Galaxy Fold debuted for $1,980 with a 7.3-inch tablet-like display when unfolded, and a tiny 4.6-inch panel on the outside. Just six months later, the Galaxy Z Flip released with a more vertically-proportioned 6.7-inch screen coated in Ultra-Thin Glass for better durability for $600 less. Samsung just cut the price on the Galaxy Z Fold 2 by $200, but that could be to reduce inventory in advance of a new version's launch.

If Apple opts for a smaller and cheaper foldable, the phone's price may not be a far cry from premium handsets like the $1,099 iPhone 12 Pro Max. However, if the foldable iPhone is intended as a phone that can become a tablet when needed, like the Galaxy Fold, it's certainly possible the price could well exceed those of Apple's more conventional smartphones.

iPhone Flip: The competition

If the iPhone Flip doesn't arrive until 2023, Apple will certainly be giving its rivals a head start on the foldable phone front. Samsung has already released two versions of the Galaxy Z Fold, and a new edition is expected in August. At the same time, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 should also debut. More significantly, Samsung is rumored to be looking at lower prices for its foldable phones, which would potentially open the foldable phones to a wider audience.

Assuming Motorola continues to develop the Motorola Razr as a foldable, the iPhone Flip would face some entrenched competition by the time it launched — and that's without any other Android phone makers coming out with devices of their own. Still, Apple has rarely been first-to-market with its landmark products, only launching devices like the iPod, iPhone and iPad when it feels that its addressed the shortcomings of similar devices. You could see the company take a similar tack with the iPhone Flip.

iPhone Flip outlook

There's so much we've yet to learn regarding Apple's foldable iPhone plans, but one thing is for certain: Whatever strategy Apple takes in developing its first foldable phone will likely dictate the trajectory of the industry.

Samsung may have been the first out of the foldable phone gate with the Galaxy Fold, but that company is continuing to test out different form factors as it looks to find out what phone shoppers really want.

Apple has a history of instituting major change in the mobile market with every release: the abandonment of the headphone jack, elimination of bezels and adoption of the notch were all trends kicked off by iPhones. And although 5G handsets are more common than ever, the iPhone 12 is likely serving as most people's introduction to 5G.

Ultimately, foldable tech and the smartphone industry at large has a lot riding on how Apple approaches the dream of an iPhone that folds.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.