Things have gone quiet on the so-called iPhone Flip front. For some, it seems like it will never come to fruition. But that doesn't mean people aren't thinking about what a foldable iPhone might look like.
It's not like Apple hasn't been busy on the smartphone front. This past fall, we saw the launch of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, and based on rumors, work has already started on 2023's iPhone 15 updates. But none of those phones can bend in half.
And that's a missing gap in Apple's lineup since its chief rival Samsung does make foldable phones. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 rank among the best foldable phones you can get right now. Will Apple one day be able to challenge these devices?
Rumors suggest they might, even if recent reports about Apple's upcoming phones have been largely silent about an iPhone Flip. Apple foldable phone patents, along with concept drawings from independent designers, suggest that Apple can really make its mark with the iPhone Flip/Fold.
So we've compiled the rumors so far and the 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 speculation
The launch date of the iPhone Flip is open to speculation, but the latest rumors are pointing toward a 2023 or 2024 launch.
Display analyst Ross Young, who has a track record for being accurate with such tips, has suggested Apple could introduce a foldable iPhone in 2023. That said, even Young believes that 2024 is probably the more likely launch year for such a device.
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.
Suffice to say, no one knows if or when an iPhone Flip will show up. Skepticism here is the healthiest outlook.
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.
iPhone Flip design: What will it look like?
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, 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 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.
Yet another patent, originally filed in the second quarter of 2018 and subsequently unearthed by PatentlyApple (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab), depicting a vertically-folding handset similar in orientation to the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Motorola Razr.
More recently, 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 (opens in new tab) 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.
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 (opens in new tab) 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 14 Pro), 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.
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, an iPhone 13 Pro-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.
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.
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 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 $1,099 iPhone 14 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: The competition
If the iPhone Flip doesn't arrive until this year, Apple will certainly be giving its rivals a head start on the foldable phone front. Samsung is now up to its fourth version of the Galaxy Z Fold and there's a new Galaxy Z Flip, too. Samsung reports some success with foldable phone sales, and you can understand why, since the last two Flip models have cost less than $1,000.
There's a new Motorola Razr too, offering plenty of upgrades to the original, underwhelming foldable. But it's only on sale in China, meaning it, like other China-exclusive foldables including the Oppo Find N and the Honor Magic V, aren't real competitors, as good as they are.
Google had reportedly been working on a Pixel Fold that was rumored to arrive well ahead of anything Apple had in the works. While one report claimed Google walked away from the Pixel Fold, subsequent reports say the project is still on. A 2022 launch date is out of the question, but some rumors say we could see the Pixel Fold in the first three months of 2023.
As should be clear by now, we still have to see whether anyone outside of Samsung can succeed with foldable phones. 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.