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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)

Everything we think we know about the iPhone Flip is slippery because there's still a long wait until we're meant to see it revealed. That could mean a lot of the rumors changes before that time. What's for sure is that Apple definitely has an interest in foldable tech, and won't want Samsung to keep the market to itself.

Foldables remains a growing segment of the smartphone world. Right after releasing the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip 3 Bespoke Edition, where you can mix and match colors on your foldable. Microsoft's dual-screen Surface Duo 2 is out now as well. Clearly, the race is on to build the best foldable phone.

So when will Apple jump into that race? The company typically waits to release new products until it knows it can beat whatever's out there. (The iPhone wasn't the first smartphone, but it sure did trounce what came before it.) And the Apple foldable phone patents, along with concept drawings from independent designers, suggest that Apple can really make its mark with the iPhone Flip/Fold.

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 speculation 

The launch date of the iPhone Flip is open to speculation, but the latest rumors are pointing towards 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 next year. Equally, he added that 2024 is probably the more likely launch year for such a device.

However, a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo states that a foldable iPhone may not arrive until 2025

iPhone Flip display size

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 3, 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.

Yet 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.

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 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.

(Image credit: USPTO)

In 2020, 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 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.

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 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 3 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. 

ConceptsiPhone has also published a video of an iPhone Flip concept that looks a lot like an Apple version of the Galaxy Z Flip 3. It features a smaller notch than the iPhone 12, a 120Hz display and an in-screen Touch ID sensor. It also features 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)

Another design, 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 iPhone 14 plans — no notch.

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 in October 2020 which suggested 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 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 3 costing $1,799 at launch and the Z Flip 3 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 13 Pro Max. However, if the foldable iPhone is intended as a phone that can become a tablet when needed, like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, 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 is now up to its third version of the Galaxy Z Fold and there's a new Galaxy Z Flip, too — those phones have reportedly sold very well, and price could be a big reason; the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the first foldable phone to be available for less than $1,000.

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. 

At least one would-be competitor sounds like it's backing out of the race to build the best foldable. 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 is walking away from the Pixel Fold, subsequent reports say the project is still on with the phone due out by the end of 2022. We still have to see whether anyone outside of Samsung can succeed with foldable phones.

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, 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.

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.