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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)

The iPhone Flip isn't in Apple's immediate plans — but plans have a way of changing over time. You're definitely not going to see a foldable iPhone this year, especially with Apple focused on the iPhone 13 launch. But all signs indicate that Apple wants to challenge Samsung and others with a foldable device of its own — we've seen the patents to prove it.

So no, iPhone Flip won't ship anytime soon. But 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.

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

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicts that the first foldable iPhone will launch in 2023. He expects Apple to ship an impressive 20 million units in the first year. 

A separate report from Digitimes suggested that the iPhone Flip could arrive a year earlier in 2022, but Apple leaker Jon Prosser claimed that 2022 was too optimistic, and that the iPhone Flip won't be arriving until much later. Likewise, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman claims a foldable iPhone is some two to three years away. So it's looking likely that while Samsung pushes forwards with is foldable phones plans, Apple will be a lot slower and likely more cautious. 

Furthermore, a recent report from Business Korea has suggested that the iPhone Flip could arrive in 2023, with Apple working on a pair of foldable phone designs. Whether that means there's a pair of designs that Cupertino will pick from, or if it means Apple is working on two foldable phones, remains to be seen. 

iPhone Flip display size

Ming-Chi Kuo goes on to say that the first foldable iPhone will have a huge display measuring 8 inches. That would be larger than the rumored Galaxy Z Fold 3 (rumors point to a display between 7 and 7.7 inches) and also bigger than the current iPad mini (7.9 inches). 

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

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 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.

(Image credit: USPTO)

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 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 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 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 we'll have to see whether Apple keeps its A series naming convention going forward for iPhones. 

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 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.

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. 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 12 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: 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 starts at $999, 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. (Google may have something to say about that, with the rumored Pixel Fold, though like the rumored iPhone Flip, that device isn't coming out this year.) 

Still, 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
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.