Do foldable phones represent the future of smartphone computing? It’s certainly starting to look that way. Over the past few days, we’ve seen intriguing new foldable smartphone designs from both Samsung and Huawei. Samsung, of course, has the Galaxy Fold and Huawei has the Mate X. Both devices are wildly expensive and, if we’re being honest, seem more like prototype devices than polished products. Nonetheless, there’s a case to be made that foldable phones may represent the next frontier for smartphone innovation.
And where does Apple stand on all of this? Well, per usual, the company is still sitting on the sidelines; though that’s not to say the company isn’t busy exploring all sorts of interesting new ideas in the realm of foldable phones.
To this point, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier today published a patent application from Apple which details a solution to the wear and tear a foldable display might endure through regular use. Apple specifically notes that a display could be prone to damage when bent in cold weather environments. One of Apple’s solutions to this problem describes heating up the portion of the display that bends to prevent unnecessary damage.
The patent abstract reads:
An electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be flexed about a bend axis. A display may span the bend axis. To facilitate bending about the bend axis without damage when the display is cold, a portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be selectively heated. The portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be self-heated by illuminating pixels in the portion of the display that overlap the bend axis or may be heated using a heating element or other heating structure that provides heat to the portion of the display overlapping the bend axis. Control circuitry may engage a latching mechanism that previous opening and closing of the electronic device when the temperature of the portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis is below a predetermined temperature.
The full patent can be viewed here.
Now, does this mean that Apple is definitely going to release a foldable iPhone at some point? Not necessarily. Apple files patent applications for all sorts of products and technologies that never actually see the light of day. But the patent does underscore that Apple won’t be caught completely off-guard if foldable smartphones do, in fact, become the standard design for smartphones well off into the future.