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Apple continues to work on new device form factors including a wild notebook concept & devices with displays that fold & scroll

1 cover apple flip phone concept image

The topic of foldable devices, especially smartphones has been a hot topic online. On May 11, Business Standard posted a report titled "Apple now the only major smartphone brand without a foldable device." The report noted that with the Pixel Fold debuting earlier this month, every major Android brand now has a foldable smartphone.

Bloomberg recently provided a chart illustrating some of the key leaders in foldable phones, putting Chinese OEMs Xiaomi and Vivo in the category of "others." China is a critical market for Apple who is likely keeping an eye on this market segment in respect to foldables.

2 China's Competitive Foldable phone field

TrendForce posted an analytical report on Wednesday with the title being "Foldable Smartphone Shipments Expected to Soar by Over 50% YoY, Reaching 19.8 Million Units in 2023." While that's a super-hyper byline, the reality is that "the market penetration of foldable phones is to only be around 1.7% market share in 2023.

With continuous improvements in cost and design, this figure is expected to surpass 5% by 2027," according to TrendForce. That's not exactly a statistic that threatens Apple, though it has to be acknowledged that foldables fall into the premium phone market segment where Apple currently dominates.   

In April, Patently Apple posted a report titled "A recent study shows that 39% of those willing to Purchase a Foldable smartphone in the Future would prefer one from Apple." So It's pretty clear that Apple fans will jump in head first whenever Apple decides to enter this segment. The survey revealed that 45% want a flip-phone style while 35% want a book-style form factor.  

At present, Apple's patents indicate that they're working on a series of possible future foldables including a folding hybrid notebook-tablet, Book and Flip phone models as well. Yesterday the US Patent & Trademark Office published two patent applications from Apple that show that their teams are continually updating and upgrading their patent claims to ensure that they're legally protected against competitors.

Apple Flip-Style iPhone

Yesterday the U.S. Patent Office published two Apple patents relating to foldables and more. The first is titled "Multi-Part Device Enclosure" that primarily focuses on a flip-style iPhone.

While the patent verbiage does in fact support physical buttons etc., the patent equally presents a design that uses "touch sensors" and "touch-and/or force sensitive displays." Obviously the archaic view of a flip-phone as a patent figure is to illustrate a concept people could relate to. It's not a design that Apple would ever deliver.

Apple Later adds: "These components, along with the display that is positioned below the transparent cover, produce an input surface that may accept various types of physical inputs, such as swipes, gestures, touch inputs, presses, and the like."

Apple's patent FIG. 19A below illustrates a composite structure integrated into a display portion to facilitate cooling of a display or other components of the electronic device.

3 Apple  Flip phone patent

Apple's patent FIG. 19B above illustrates a side view of the device #1900 of FIG. 19A, air may enter one end of the air-permeable structure #1910 and pass through the air-permeable structure exiting at location #1918.

While Apple was granted this patent back in February 2021, Apple's team have filed a continuation patent that adds extra features and/or protections for their invention. You could review the entire patent including their 20 new patent claims at the bottom of patent application number 20230161390.

Leaker Jon Prosser posted went all out 2 years ago with a video report with concept images claiming that Apple was leaning towards a flip-style foldable phone, much like the recent study suggested.

While this style isn't my preference, more seem to a want a flip-style smartphone. I'm personally looking for a larger display rather than the same iPhone of today simply folded in half.  Send in your comments below as to which model you would prefer and why in our comment section below or on our Twitter feed.

iPhone/iPad with Mechanism to Enlarge the Display

In Apple's second patent application posted yesterday by the U.S. Patent Office they cover a wider range of possible future foldable devices. One covers devices that could provide an extendable display for an iPhone or iPad. To better visualize this concept, see the video below of Samsung demonstrating a prototype of a future tablet with an extendable display at an Intel event last October.

As you'll see in the patent FIGS below, Apple presents a scrollable display concept along with a simple foldable device and a wild device that could act as a next-gen notebook-like device.

Apple's patent FIG. 2 below is a perspective view of a scrollable device having a flexible display extended between two housing structures; FIG. 17 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative electronic device with a scrolling flexible display deployed using multiple internal rollers.

4 scrollable display style Apple device to enlarge display

Apple's patent FIG. 6 above is a top view of device #10 in an illustrative configuration in which the housing for the device has a main portion (housing structure 12-1) and has a smaller portion (housing structure 12-2) that is used as a support bar to help pull flexible display #14 off of a roller within the interior of structures #12-1. Bistable support strips such as tape #32 may be used to help support the flexible display when the flexible display is in its deployed state as shown in FIG. 6.

Apple's patent FIG. 7 below illustrates electronic device #10 having a foldable configuration, in fact a double fold. Apple states that in general, the device may have any suitable number of bend regions (#50, e.g., one or more, two or more, three or more, etc.). 

Apple's patent FIG. 11 below illustrates what is known as a tear drop flexible display configuration that allows the display to fold and appear flat, as the tear drop display is hidden in the hinge area of the folded device.  See the tear drop design of the OPPO foldable smartphone here.

5. Apple patent illustrates foldable  double fold and unique notebook invention

Apple's patent FIG. 15 above is one of the more inventive concepts for a foldable device from Apple. It's unique two-display notebookish device. The base section contains a rigid display that acts as a virtual display keyboard when needed.

The second display is hidden in an "internal roller" with a handle that the user could pull on and expand the display. What makes this a hot concept is that display doesn't have to be a traditional size. It could, in theory, hold a much larger portrait display for different kinds of work when needed.

This is definitely a hot and wild concept, though probably too wild for Apple executives to ever sign off on. Too bad, because an Apple competitor is bound to scoop up this concept and actually bring it to market.

With that said, Apple's patent goes to illustrate that they have engineering teams experimenting and patenting various foldable devices to bring to market when the time is right. So all this negative chatter about Apple being last to market, as if they're bumbling idiots, is always a belly laugh for me.

While Apple was granted this patent back in March 2020, Apple's team have filed a continuation patent that surfaced this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that adds extra features and/or protections for their invention. You could review the entire patent including their 20 new patent claims at the bottom of patent application number 20230161383.

10.51FX - Patent Application Bar


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