Granted this week by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and unearthed by MacRumors, the patent describes a new hinge mechanism that uses movable flaps to cover the hinge’s gap, ensuring that the flexible panel stays secure in place without any crease or fold. When you close this Apple device, the flaps retract, allowing it to fold inside at the adequate angle to hide it and ensure that no damage occurs.
The hinge designs have been a constant source of problems for early models of foldable phones and tablets. The Samsung Galaxy Fold shows a crease when unfolded and a big gap when folded. The Huawei Mate X also shows a noticeable crease when unfolded — so does the Royole Flexpai.
The only phone that does a good job at this so far is the Motorola Razr, although it’s yet to be seen how it’s going to work long term in the real world. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip seems to also have a redesigned hinge that may help with that, although we don’t have any hands-on experience with it yet.
So it makes sense to put some serious research time in getting a foldable phone right — because Cook and his minions are prepping a foldable, have no doubt about it. The hinge design is crucial for a good experience with these devices.
The Apple foldable paper trail
It’s not the first hinge patent from Apple. Back on March 2019, the company filed a method to protect the folding area under cold weather conditions.
And before that, there have been others about foldable technology in general. In March 2018, Apple got a patent for a flexible battery that would be integrated with the display, with graphite padding to help dissipate the heat that will occur when you combine the two.
In October, the USPTO awarded one to a magnetic latch that would keep the phone closed without any physical mechanism, which seems like a very Apple thing to do and something that will add to a satisfying foldable experience.
On February 14, 2019 — almost a year ago — Apple got another patent that showed a normal iPhone that would fold in half making it more compact — like the Motorola Razr.
Of course, Apple may throw all these patents to the trash but, given the interest that the Razr has created — Motorola claims it can’t keep up with demand — and the money Samsung is putting into this category, it will be a bit crazy to think that the Cupertino company won’t release such a phone. Once the technology is good enough.
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Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.