(Image from KnowTechie)
Considering that foldable smartphones only held 1.2% market share in 2022, I'm amazed at the hype surrounding this category at present.
(Click on chart to Enlarge)
Even analysts at Counterpoint are pumping foldable smartphones beyond their actual market position. Samsung revealed their next-gen foldable phones this week and The Korean Times published a hyped report titled "Samsung expects teenage iPhone users to switch to Galaxy foldable smartphones."
Earlier this month CNBC hyped foldables in a report titled "A new foldable smartphone is becoming as popular as an Apple iPhone model in China."
While tech sites and analysts are hyping the category, it's not yet a threat to Apple's premium smartphone segment. Admittedly the Chinese OEMs smell blood in the water and they're all racing into this category knowing that Apple has no presence in this sector.
Yet high prices for foldables will keep the mass market on the sidelines. Once large foldables like the Galaxy Z Fold hit a price range of $999 to $1299 range, Apple will have to introduce a foldable to protect their premium phone leadership.
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." Clearly there's a market for a foldable iPhone when Apple is ready to introduce one. With the iPhone being Apple's lone killer product, they won't let competitors get too far ahead of them before stepping into this category.
Last Sunday, Patently Apple posted an IP report titled "A European Apple patent reveals work on Foldable devices that use a Spring Layer to protect the display in the event of a fall & more."
Yesterday the US Patent & Trademark Office published yet another foldable display patent application from Apple, with this one titled "Electronic Devices With Flexible Display Cover Layers."
Back in September 2022 we posted an IP report titled "Apple has won a Patent for a Future Folding Device with a Self-Healing Display that could hide Scratches & Dents." Apple's latest patent application published yesterday expands on this very theme.
Apple notes that during operation of an electronic device, the display cover layer for the electronic device may be scratched or dented. To improve the aesthetics of the electronic device, it may be desirable for the presence of scratches and dents to be minimized. To help mitigate the number of dents, scratches, or other imperfections in a display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a layer of self-healing material.
The layer of self-healing material may be formed across the entire display cover layer or may be formed only in the flexible region of the display cover layer. The display cover layer may include a layer of elastomer in the flexible region of the display cover layer for increased flexibility. The layer of self-healing material may cover the layer of elastomer in the flexible region.
Self-healing may occur in the layer of self-healing material without prompting (e.g., when the self-healing coating is dented, the material of the coating may fill the dent even without external intervention). Alternatively, the self-healing may be initiated or expedited by externally applied heat, light, electric current, or other type of external stimulus.
When heat is used as a stimulus for the self-healing process, the display cover layer may include transparent conductors that form a heating layer in the display cover layer. The heating layer may be used to generate heat to stimulate self-healing. The heating layer may be used to generate heat in response to user input, according to a predetermined schedule, or when the electronic device is charging.
To promote flexibility in the display cover layer, the display cover layer may include a transparent dielectric layer with slits. The slits may be filled with an index-matching material. In a November 2022 patent report on self-healing displays, we presented key Apple patent figures as illustrated below.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is a general graphic representing a device that appears like a foldable iPhone, though Apple states that it could be an iPad or a MacBook; FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional side view of a display that includes a display cover layer with a layer of self-healing material; FIG. 18 is a top view of an illustrative transparent dielectric layer including slits.
In yesterday's patent, FIG. 1 is the same as their November 2022 patent but then dives deeper into the technology behind the self-healing displays. As shown in FIG. 2, input-output devices #52 may include display #14 which may be a touch screen that incorporates a two-dimensional touch sensor that may be formed from an array of capacitive touch electrodes touch sensor or other touch sensor components (e.g., force sensors, resistive touch sensors, acoustic touch sensors, optical sensors, etc.): FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional side view of a display showing how a display cover layer may have a flexible portion interposed between rigid portions.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 above is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display in which the display cover layer includes a self-healing coating across the display cover layer and an elastomer layer in the flexible region of the display cover layer.
Patent FIG. 17 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display having a display cover layer with three transparent dielectric layers that include slits in a flexible region of the display cover layer.
Apple's invention may apply to any foldable device such as an iPhone, iPad, hybrid iPad-notebook, a foldable monitor and foldable iMac.
For more details, review Apple's patent application number 20230240093. At present it's unknown whether Apple will decide to enter the foldable device market with a hybrid iPad-notebook or an iPhone as their first form factor.
Some of the Team Members on this Apple Project
- Paul Drzaic: Director, Display Investigations
- Yasmin Afsar: Hardware Engineer, Emerging Display Technology
- Hoon Kim: Product Design – Special Project Group
- Leiming Wang: Sr. Panel Optical Engineer
- Terry Lam: Works out of Hong Kong, position unknown
- Young Cheol Yang: Principal Researcher