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Apple might be making a revolutionary iPhone with a rollable screen

Published Oct 7th, 2021 5:29PM EDT
Rollable iPhone
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Rumors from various sources keep sharing details about Apple’s purported foldable iPhone. That Apple is developing such a device isn’t at all surprising. Everyone in the industry is developing handsets with foldable displays, with Samsung being the best example. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3 also happen to be the best possible foldable handsets that money can buy right now. And reports say that Apple is testing prototypes featuring both designs. On top of that, Apple might be working on an iPhone with a foldable display that goes by a different name: a rollable screen. Rollable phones are handsets featuring foldable OLED screens that roll around one of the corners. We’ve already seen a few concepts, with the best one coming from Chinese smartphone maker Oppo.

A foldable handset could feature a tablet-like design, like the Fold 3, with the screen place on the inside. Huawei made similar foldable phones that had the folding screen on the outside. The Flip 3 is a clamshell device that has the same size when opened as a traditional handset. The main screen also sits on the inside. These foldable handsets feature hinges that allow the two sides to open and close. The flexible screen folds and unfolds with the help of that hinge.

Rollable iPhone
Rollable display (14) bending around a roller (80) inside a phone made of two structures, 12-1 and 12-2 that can slide away from each other. Image source: Apple via USPTO

Rollable phones do not have a hinge, but they still feature a flexible OLED panel that bends around an axis. It’s also a type of foldable screen, as the display does fold. LG wanted to launch a Rollable phone this year, but then it shut down its mobile business. Oppo’s rollable handset remains the closest thing we have to a commercial device.

The rollable iPhone

Apple filed a new patent application this June that Apple Insider discovered. The application is a continuation of a patent awarded to Apple titled Electronic Devices Having Sliding Expandable Displays.

Sliding expandable displays is one other way to describe a rollable phone. The screen would roll towards the left or right, in which case. So you could say the screen is sliding as it’s expanding in size.

The fact that Apple filed a continuation document seems to suggest that Apple is really interested in this particular design type for future devices. The general language used in the patent might apply to foldable phone designs similar to what’s available from Android vendors.

But Apple’s drawings focus on a design that involves a rollable screen. When “folded,” a part of the rollable screen would sit insider the phone. When “unfolded,” the screen would slide out, rolling around an axis, alongside a portion of the phone’s frame.

As seen in these images, the technology that Apple envisions here would suit a rollable phone better than a foldable phone.

Rollable iPhone
A 3D view of the phone’s structure shows one side (12-2) sliding away from the other (12-1). The rollable display would sit atop the structure, after exiting opening 86. Image source: Apple via USPTO

Rollable vs. foldable designs

One advantage that a rollable iPhone would have over a foldable model is that it would not crease in the middle where the hinge is present. But Apple would still have to ensure the sliding metal structure that supports the screen is durable enough to prevent damages.

But foldable displays already have access to more durable, bendable glass. It’s unclear whether we’ll ever get glass that rolls to protect rollable displays. Then again, Apple might already have access to the kind of glass replacement that it could use inside foldable and rollable iPhone designs.

That said, there’s no guarantee that Apple is making a rollable iPhone anytime soon. But the patent further proves that Apple is researching phone-sized devices that can offer bigger screens.

The iPad mini 6 is practically a large iPhone 13 Pro that lacks support for cellular calls. I said a few days ago that the iPad mini 6 is begging to be folded. But what if Apple makes a rollable iPhone that you could roll into an iPad mini-like device?

Rollable iPhone
Fig. 14 shows a cross-sectional view across a rollable phone. Fig. 15 shows the compact version of the phone, with the screen rolled inside. The display unrolls in Fig. 16 to increase the screen area available to the user. Image source: Apple via USPTO
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.