A new patent awarded to Apple today, uncovered by Patently Apple, shows the company is exploring a foldable iPhone concept, confirming what rumours have long suggested. Apple was believed to be researching foldable iPhone designs starting back in 2013, but new evidence suggests the company is still serious about making this concept a reality at some point. Image: USPTO
The new patent was actually filed back in August 28, but was only officially awarded to Apple today. Patently Apple claims the company was able to keep its newest foldable iPhone patent under wraps by using an engineer's name during the filing process. The patent itself explicitly uses the iPhone moniker (rather than referring to it as a generic "electronic device") and shows several drawings depicting the current design we all know, including the iconic home button.
Where the patent gets interesting is in its description of the materials that could be used to make the future iPhone. It explicitly describes an iPhone housing that could be made with glass, ceramic, fibre, aluminium or plastic - which isn't much different than what's currently used. The real revelation, however, is in the patent's description of "carbon nanotubes" that would allow the iPhone to literally fold in half down the middle.
Here's what the patent says:
Conductive carbon nanotube paths can form signal paths that are flexible and resistant to cracking. The carbon nanotube structures may be incorporated into signal cables such as flexible printed circuit cables, rigid printed circuit boards, printed circuits that include rigid portions with flexible tails (sometimes referred to as "rigid flex"), portions of display structures, portions of touch sensors such as capacitive touch sensor arrays for displays or track pads, camera structures, antenna structures, housing structures, internal device structures, electrical components, substrates, brackets, housing walls, other structures, or combinations of these structures.
The patent goes on to say the future device "may have a hinge or other bendable joint" and of course shows a picture of that concept. Although this sounds wildly misguided, Apple's chief rival Samsung has also been pursuing similar technology and designs. Samsung has patented so many foldable phone designs, Patently Mobile created a huge archive to keep track of them all.
Don't expect to see a foldable iPhone any time soon, though. It's important to remember that not all patents turn into products, and even if patents are eventually used in real-life products, its takes years for them to ever see the light of day. So don't wait for a foldable iPhone because the iPhone 7 is already great - even without the ability to fold in half.