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

The iPhone Flip could be Apple's first foldable phone
(Image credit: #iOS Beta News/YouTube)

Rumors of the iPhone Flip have been circling around the smartphone world for years. And unfortunately, we're still waiting for a clear sign on when such a phone might appear — if it even does at all.

As Apple seemingly bides its time, plenty of other brands are causing the competition for the best foldable phones to heat up. Besides mainstays like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Fold 5, the Google Pixel Fold, Motorola Razr+ and the OnePlus Open are now viable options if you're looking for a foldable.

With the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro already on sale and the iPhone 16 models coming later this year, there's no certainty in the rumors around the arrival of an iPhone Flip in 2024. In fact, many Apple watchers suggest a foldable iPad is likely to arrive before a phone does.

For now though, this article sums up all the rumors we've heard so far about the iPhone Flip. We keep our fingers crossed we'll be updating this with more concrete information any day now...

iPhone Flip release date speculation 

The launch date of the iPhone Flip is open to speculation, with the latest rumors making a 2024 launch seem unlikely.

It hasn't always been the case. Display analyst Ross Young, who has a track record for being accurate with such tips, had suggested a possible 2024 release for a foldable iPhone after 2023 came and went with no sign of an iPhone Flip. However, a report from Ming-Chi Kuo states that a foldable iPhone may not arrive until 2025. Another analyst, Ben Wood, believes we will at least get a foldable iPad before then

Now, sources from Samsung Display in Korea reckon it could be 2027 before we see Apple's first foldable device, and that may not be a phone. A report in Korean publication Alpha Business echoes that 2027 claim (but for a phone, not a tablet), while a leaked road map of Apple product releases indicates 2026 will be the year of the iPhone Flip.

All this talk of iPhone Flip delays has soured some analysts, causing them to conclude that a foldable iPhone may never show up. Yet, the same Digitimes article reporting on that pessimism also hints at Apple re-allocating some resources from its Vision Pro headset to help with a foldable device, so all hope may not be lost.

A  report from The Information tackles the work Apple is doing on foldable devices, and like other sources, it indicates a foldable iPad may be the company's first order of business. More to the point, the report says prototypes are in early stages of development with no plans to enter mass production this year or next.

iPhone Flip display

Ming-Chi Kuo has claimed that the first foldable iPhone will have a huge display measuring 8 inches. That would be larger than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, which offers a 7.6 inch display when it's opened up. An 8-inch display would also be nearly as large as the 8.3-inch iPad mini.

A different report claims Apple could be working with LG on a 7.5-inch OLED foldable display panel.

But that's not all — another report from Kuo says that Apple is testing a 9-inch display for a foldable. That would dwarf any foldable phone on the market right now.

Kuo has also said that Apple's thinking about using color e-ink displays for the exterior display on foldables. This kind of screen wouldn't be as reactive as an LCD or OLED panel, but it would be great for keeping battery consumption low.

Interestingly a patent also suggests Apple could grant the iPhone Flip a measure  of self-preservation should it ever be dropped. The idea behind the patent is the Flip's hinge will start to close mid-drop, and shift the balance of the phone and avoid having the screen hit the ground and being damaged.

iPhone Flip design: What will it look like?

iPhone Flip concept

An iPhone Flip concept from ConceptsiPhone (Image credit: ConceptsiPhone)

According to Jon Prosser, Apple has tested two different kinds of iPhone Flip: a fold-out book-style hybrid tablet, similar to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold lineup or the newly unveiled Pixel Fold, 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)

In 2020, we became aware of an 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 2 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 M2 and older MacBook models.

If we go back to beyond 2020, we can see earlier musings on foldable designs from Apple, including a patent for a tri-folding display. And going back 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 4 and Motorola Razr.

A pair of patents won by Apple cover durable foldable displays as well as a foldable screen with textured flexible areas. Those patents don't mention a phone specifically, so Apple could also be mulling a foldable tablet.

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. 

ConceptsiPhone has published a video of an iPhone Flip concept that looks a lot like an Apple version of the Galaxy Z Flip. It features a smaller notch than the iPhone 14 (although no Dynamic Island like the iPhone 15 series), a 120Hz display and an in-screen Touch ID sensor. The concept design also equips the phone with an M1 chip, which sounds a bit far-fetched, but given Apple now uses its M1 silicon in the iPad Pro and iPad Air, perhaps we will eventually see it in a high-end phone too rather than the usual A-series chip.

iPhone Air is an iPhone Flip concept phone

(Image credit: Antonio De Rosa)

Designer Antonio De Rosa tweeted out images that show a foldable iPhone that offers some elements of the Galaxy Z Flip such as an external notification screen, while maintaining some distinctive iPhone touches. Those include flat edges, a pro iPhone-like camera array and — in a nod to Apple's rumored future iPhone plans beyond 2022 — no notch or Dynamic Island at all.

Perhaps the best-looking (and most realistic) iPhone Flip design comes from 4RMD, who envisions a flip phone-style design with a 6.8-inch screen when the phone is open. As with the Galaxy Z Flip, there's an outer exterior display to handle notifications and other alerts.

iPhone Flip render

(Image credit: 4RMD)

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)

If the computer renders and illustrations of the foldable iPhone aren't enough, then take a look at this real-life concept from Technology Aesthetics. The team there has created a real-life "iPhone V" using parts from iPhones and a Motorola Razr, although it's got a lot of problems that go to show just how tricky it is to make phones fold.

iPhone V foldable phone concept in hand

(Image credit: Technology Aesthetics/YouTube)

iPhone Flip: Durability

We saw a patent in October 2020 which suggested the iPhone Flip could come with an upgraded version of the iPhone'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 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. The same price difference has been maintained on the most recent Galaxy foldables, with the Z Fold 4 costing $1,799 at launch and the Z Flip 4 just $999.

If Apple opts for a smaller and cheaper foldable, the phone's price may not be a far cry from premium handsets like the $1,199 iPhone 15 Pro Max. However, if the foldable iPhone is intended as a phone that can become a tablet when needed, like the Galaxy Z Fold 4, it's certainly possible the price could well exceed those of Apple's more conventional smartphones, perhaps pushing, or exceeding, the dreaded $2,000 mark.

iPhone Flip: Software

We assume a foldable iPhone would run on iOS, shipping with whatever the latest version is at the time it appears. But we would also assume Apple would tweak its iPhone software to make better use of the folding body.

One thing we really hope gets fixed for the iPhone Flip is iOS' multitasking ability. It's easy to switch apps in iOS, but you can't run apps side-by-side like you can on an iPad or Android phone, which would be a waste of a foldable iPhone's potential.

iPhone Flip: Could it be a rollable instead?

There's a chance that Apple could surprise us all by introducing not a folding iPhone, but a rolling one. Patents suggest that Apple's considering a rollable phone that could store part of its display inside the phone until you need it.

No other company's managed to bring a rollable to market yet, but Apple's certainly got the resources to do so if it wished to. We still suspect it would go for a foldable iPhone rather than a rollable initially, but it's fun to see Apple investigating another potential way to evolve its phone.

iPhone Flip: The competition

If the iPhone Flip doesn't arrive this year or next, Apple will certainly be giving its rivals even more of a head start on the foldable phone front. Samsung is now up to its fifth version of the Galaxy Z Fold and there's a new Galaxy Z Flip, too. 

In summer 2023, the Pixel Fold joined the mix as a competitor to the Galaxy Z Fold 5, matching that phone's $1,799 asking price. It's a phone that opens up to show off a 7.6-inch screen, with a Tensor G2 chipset running the show. Our Pixel Fold review finds a lot to like about Google's first foldable, though there are some rough edges, too.

Also in 2023, OnePlus entered the market with the Galaxy Z Fold-like OnePlus Open, which won our Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. OnePlus Open face-off. Meanwhile, Motorola finally delivered a compelling flip phone with the Motorola Razr+, while the standard Motorola Razr (2023) drove the price of foldables down to a more reasonable $699.

In short, a lot's changed on the foldable phone front while iPhone Flip rumors have merely percolated. But that shouldn't dissuade Apple, which has rarely been first-to-market with its landmark products. Typically, Apple only launches 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, 2020's iPhone 12 likely served 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.

More from Tom's Guide

Category
Arrow
Arrow
Back to Mobile Cell Phones
Brand
Arrow
Storage Size
Arrow
Colour
Arrow
Condition
Arrow
Price
Arrow
Any Price
Showing 10 of 260 deals
Filters
Arrow
(256GB Blue)
Our Review
1
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max Blue...
Mint Mobile
Our Review
3
Apple iPhone 15 128BG
Visible
Our Review
4
Apple iPhone 15 128GB
AT&T Mobility
(256GB)
Our Review
5
Samsung - Galaxy S24 Ultra...
Best Buy
Our Review
6
Google Pixel 8 Pro - 128 GB
Verizon Wireless
(128GB)
Our Review
7
Apple iPhone 15 128GB Blue
Apple
Our Review
8
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra...
Walmart
(256GB)
Our Review
9
Galaxy S24 Ultra 256GB...
Samsung
(256GB Blue)
Our Review
10
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max...
Straight Talk
Load more deals
Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

With contributions from