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

(Image credit: #iOS beta news)

Much of the attention around upcoming Apple phones centers on the iPhone 13, but don't sleep on the iPhone Flip. There's no question Apple is interested in a foldable smartphone. The only debate seems to be when such an iPhone will arrive.

Patents and concepts from independent designers give us clues about what an iPhone Flip might look like. But predicting an actual release date is little more than a guessing game at this point. 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 news (Updated April 7) 

iPhone flip release date

We're not expecting another iPhone launch until the iPhone 13 at the earliest, and that release isn't expected until this September. It's not likely we'll see the iPhone Flip anytime before this. Barring the iPhone SE (2020), Apple has bundled its iPhone hardware announcements into one big event in the fall for many years.

Unfortunately, a report from Digitimes suggests that the iPhone Flip won't arrive until 2022, which means we'd likely be waiting until the launch of the iPhone 14 in September of that year. 

However Jon Prosser claims that 2022 is too optimistic, and that the iPhone Flip won't be arriving until much later. Evidentially Apple hasn't got that far in the development process yet. That's supported by a subsequent report in February that Apple hasn't finalized the foldable display's design.

Given how relatively quiet the iPhone rumor mill has been on the foldable front, we could be at least two years away from Apple joining the ranks of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and upcoming Galaxy Fold 2

iPhone Flip design: What will it look like?

Again, this is another case where it really is too early to say — but we do have some clues. Both from patents and from sources from within Apple's own supply chain. 

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.

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.

(Image credit: USPTO)

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.

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 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 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 design who post concept renderings depicting possible looks for the iPhone 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.

However 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 recently 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, but incorporates a hinge, and that the two separate screens come together fairly seamlessly when outstretched.

iPhone Flip display

(Image credit: USPTO)

We also 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.

iPhone Flip price: What would it cost?

This is easily the toughest question to answer, both because price has never factored into what few foldable iPhone rumors there are, 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 11 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 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.