Apple today has been granted a patent for technology that could potentially be used to circumvent the issue of foldable displays creasing and cracking at the fold over time – a problem that has plagued many consumer foldable devices that have made it to market thus far.
Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the heading "System with multiple electronic devices," the patent describes a technology that allows two or more devices to act as one when brought close to each other through the use of proximity sensors.
The patent envisions separate devices automatically detecting when they're placed together contiguously and then sharing a common display image across them.
"Multiple electronic devices may be used together in a system," continues the patent. "The electronic devices may use sensor measurements and other information to detect when an edge of a first electronic device is adjacent to an edge of a second electronic device."
As AppleInsider notes, the wording of the patent leaves open the possibility that the tech could be used to create a single bendable device comprised of two displays in seamless communication with each other, similar to Microsoft's upcoming Surface Duo.
"Magnetic components may hold devices together in a variety of orientations. The magnetic components may operate in cooperation with beveled housing edges and other structures to help hold devices in planar configurations in which the devices lie in a common plane and non-planar configurations in which the devices are oriented at a non-zero angle with respect to each other."
Foldable smartphones are undoubtedly the latest device trend, and while there are no rumors suggesting Apple has plans to release a foldable smartphone anytime soon, the company is clearly exploring their potential.
Apple has been known to be working on foldable display technology for years with patents on the implementation of similar technology. Of course, whether this research and development results in a foldable consumer product remains to be seen.
Samsung last week unveiled the Galaxy Z Flip, which began shipping out over the weekend. We managed to get our hands on one of the new foldable smartphones, and thought we'd check it out to see how it compares to the Galaxy Fold and how foldable smartphone technology is progressing.
The Galaxy Z Flip is the followup to Samsung's original Galaxy Fold, which did not receive stellar reviews because it felt more like a prototype than an actual smartphone worth purchasing. The Galaxy Fold was a smartphone that unfolded into a tablet, but the Galaxy Z Flip is a smartphone that folds down to become more compact.
Like the flip phones of yore, the Galaxy Z Flip folds in half top over bottom, compressing down into a little pocketable square. It's thick, like two smartphones stacked on top of each other, in fact, but some people are going to prefer that as it is still more easily pocketable than a large-screened smartphone that does not fold.
When opened up, the Galaxy Z Flip features a 6.7-inch display, which is made from a flexible glass for the first time, a departure from the plastic of the Galaxy Fold. Over the glass, there's still a laminate layer, which scratches easily and has been the source of some complaints.
We haven't seen scratches, even after accidentally dropping the Z Flip four feet onto the floor, but it does feel a little bit delicate. When unlocking the display with a finger, the nail kind of presses down a bit, and if it was longer or sharper, we wouldn't be surprised to see minor screen damage.
One Galaxy Z Flip owner has also had an issue with the display cracking at the fold in the cold, but that seems to be an isolated incident. Our model wasn't taken out into the cold, but it was fine when using it day to day briefly in cold Ohio weather when going from the car to the house.
When it comes to the hinge, the Z Flip's opening and closing mechanism feels a lot smoother and we're not as worried about dust or debris getting into the hinge and mucking things up.
All in all, the Galaxy Z Flip isn't experiencing the same kind of issues that were seen with the Galaxy Fold, and in the hand, it feels more durable and has a better build quality, but make no mistake, this is still a device that needs to be treated delicately.
When it comes to the internal components, the Z Flip is lacking. It runs well, but when it comes down to it, these are components that were introduced last year. It only has a 1080p display, plus an older processor and camera technology that's inferior to the upgraded cameras used in the Galaxy S20 series.
We're going to do an in-depth camera look in a future video with the S20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but the Z Flip's cameras are basically the same cameras used in last year's Galaxy S10.
One of the main new features in the Z Flip aside from the foldable design is the little mini display that's visible on the outside of the phone when it's closed. The display can show notifications (tap them and open the phone to get to the relevant app), display the time and date, offer up media controls, and provide details on battery percentage. Most notably, it serves as a mini viewfinder when taking selfies.
Display quality is fine with the 1080p display, but the crease down the middle is definitely visible at times. In usage, though, it kind of fades away much like the notch on the iPhone.
Samsung has added a "Flex Mode" to the Z Flip, which allows it to be used for certain tasks when half folded, kind of like a little tiny MacBook. Flex Mode isn't particularly fleshed out and doesn't work with many apps right now, but when functional, it uses the top as a display and the bottom for controls.
So with the camera app, you can see yourself in the viewfinder at the top of the display and then the settings and the camera modes can be accessed on the bottom of the display. Since it sits upright like a notebook, it's available for hands-free selfies and video calls.
Foldable smartphones are an interesting concept and there's definitely promise of better things to come, but the Galaxy Z Flip is just not a phone the average person should go out and buy.
It's incredibly pricy at $1,380, it needs to be handled with the utmost care, the specs are mediocre for such an expensive device, and we ultimately have no idea how it's going to hold up to a few years of usage.
Foldable smartphones are fun to play with, but most people should stick with traditional designs at the current time to get the most bang for their buck. If you're going to be shelling out $1,300 for an Android smartphone, the Galaxy S20 series, especially the S20 Ultra, is a much better buy.
iPhone users, of course, likely aren't going to be lured away from the iPhone in favor of the Galaxy Z Flip simply because it runs Android, but it's useful to see what Apple's competitors are doing as devices like the Z Flip could hint at ideas that Apple might want to explore or stay away from in future devices.
What do you think of Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip? Let us know in the comments.
Foldable smartphones are the latest device trend, and companies that include Motorola and Samsung have released new foldable smartphones over the course of the last few weeks.
The first foldable smartphone from Samsung, the Galaxy Fold, had major durability issues that caused its launch to be delayed. Samsung's newest foldable device, the Galaxy Z Flip, seems to be faring a bit better so far, but there are some complaints about the build quality and problems with the display. The same is true of Motorola's latest smartphone, the RAZR.
Motorola RAZR foldable smartphone, image via Ray Wong
Over the weekend, YouTuber JerryRigEverything tested the durability of the Galaxy Z Flip's display, which is made of a bendable "Ultra Thin Glass" for the first time rather than the plastic material used for the Galaxy Fold.
The testing suggests that the display of the Galaxy Z Flip scratches like plastic and isn't resistant to scratching or other damage. A fingernail on the display was able to make a permanent dent, which is concerning for a smartphone that costs $1,380.
In response to that video, Samsung told CNBC in a statement that the display should be "handled with care" and that it has the same protective layer used in the Galaxy Fold, which perhaps explains some of the scratching.
Another Samsung Galaxy Z Flip user on Twitter got his smartphone, opened the box, opened the phone, and then had it crack right down the middle. He suggests that it could have been due to cold weather.
Cracking at the fold was a problem that plagued the Galaxy Fold, and Samsung does warn against pressing hard on the screen and making sure there's nothing on the screen when it's folded closed, but a crack down the middle right out of the box is unexpected behavior.
The $1,500 Motorola RAZR, another foldable smartphone that came out in February, is also seeing durability issues. Ray Wong from Input over the weekend said that the site's Motorola RAZR has a display that's peeling apart just a week after it was purchased.
I'm too scared to even fold up the phone now because the more I close it the wider the spread gets. There's a long streak across the top of the bubble and at first glance, you might mistake it for a scratch. It's not a scratch; there's no physical damage on the surface of the lamination. It's literally the pixels splitting from the two layers.
The damage is more than just cosmetic - the touchscreen is broken and the warping on the surface makes touches and taps unresponsive. Wong isn't sure what caused the damage, but as with the Galaxy Z Flip crack, he speculates that it could be related to cold temperatures.
There have been a few rumors suggesting Apple is working on foldable display technology, but given the super high price points of foldable displays and the ongoing durability issues that have impacted every foldable smartphone to date, Apple may be planning to hold off on a foldable iPhone.
Apple in early February shared a patent for a foldable device with movable flaps to prevent the display from creasing, and that's the latest that we've heard about an Apple device with foldable display technology.
Interestingly, Apple has also separately patented a self-heating display for a foldable device to prevent damage in cold weather, which seems to be a significant issue for foldable devices at the current time.
Of course, Apple patents a lot of technologies that don't ever come to fruition, so whether or not these patents and other related patents hint at Apple's work on a foldable iPhone remains to be seen. At the current time, there are no rumors indicating a folding iPhone is something that we can expect to see in the near future, and certainly not in 2020. The 2020 iPhone lineup will be similar to the 2019 iPhone lineup, though Apple is planning to implement new technologies like 5G connectivity and 3D cameras.
Apple this week has been granted a patent for a foldable device with a unique hinge mechanism that utilizes movable flaps to help prevent the display from being creased or damaged when folded.
Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today, the patent explains that the hinge mechanism would ensure adequate separation between the first and second portions of the display. When the device is unfolded, movable flaps would extend to cover the gap, and then retract when the device is folded.
All in all, it is still early days for foldable smartphones, with lots of room for innovation. Apple has certainly shown an interest in the category with several patents for foldable devices and mechanisms over the past few years, but it remains to be seen if the company ever releases a foldable iPhone or iPad.
Undeterred by its recent Galaxy Fold un-launch, Samsung is apparently set to unveil a luxury smartphone early next year that can be folded down into a compact-sized square, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
Samsung's Galaxy Fold hasn't even been released yet
The South Korean smartphone giant is working on a device with a 6.7-inch inner display that shrinks to a pocketable square when it's folded inward like a clamshell, according to people familiar with the product's development.
The smartphone giant is said to be collaborating with American designer Thom Browne on the upcoming phone, with the aim of "appealing to a broader range of consumers that includes those more interested in fashion, status and luxury than a device's tech specs." At the same time, the device will reportedly feature cutting-edge display technology and offer the nostalgic appeal of rejuvenating the flip-phone form factor.
The foldable phone is said to include a hole-punch selfie camera at the top of the inner display, while on the outside it will have two cameras that face rearwards when the phone is open and become front-facing when the device is flipped closed.
According to the paper's sources, Samsung aims to make its second bendable smartphone more affordable and thinner than this year's Galaxy Fold, although the launch of the successor device "may... hinge on how well the Fold performs after its imminent launch."
On that note, Samsung is said to have completed its redesign of the Galaxy Fold to resolve the multiple display failures that led to its delay. The South Korean company originally planned to roll out its $1,980 foldable phone on April 26, but was forced to delay the launch after several units sent out to reviewers broke during testing.
All of the issues were related to the device's screen, which was vulnerable to debris ingress. The new version of the Galaxy Fold, featuring several design and construction improvements, is now set to launch in September in select markets, with specific launch details to be shared as a launch approaches.
There have been some suggestions that Apple is exploring folding screen technology, but right now there are no rumors indicating Apple plans to actually release a foldable smartphone in the near future.
Apple will likely launch a foldable device within the next two years, analysts at investment bank UBS predict. In a research note obtained by CNBC, the analysts said the device is more likely to be an iPad than an iPhone, and they also believe it is more likely to launch in 2021 than 2020.
Emphasis should be placed on "predict," as this is likely just speculation, and proven sources like Ming-Chi Kuo or Mark Gurman have yet to report that Apple is actively developing a foldable iPhone or iPad.
Apple also has a reputation for releasing thin, sleek devices, and early folding smartphones are anything but that. That doesn't mean Apple can't do it better, but 2020 or 2021 could be quite an ambitious timeframe for a foldable iPhone or iPad that upholds the company's strict industrial design standards.
Samsung on Tuesday acknowledged that it is unable to provide a firm release date for its Galaxy Fold smartphone and has contacted pre-order customers in the United States to apologize for the delay (via Reuters).
"If we do not hear from you and we have not shipped by May 31st, your order will be canceled automatically," the South Korean tech giant's U.S. subsidiary told Galaxy Fold pre-order customers in an email late on Monday, which was confirmed by a Samsung spokeswoman.
In a statement given to Reuters, Samsung said that U.S. regulations required the company to notify customers that pre-orders would be canceled if the product did not ship by May 31.
The South Korean company originally planned to roll out its $1,980 foldable phone on April 26, but was forced to delay the launch after several units sent out to reviewers broke during testing.
After recalling the review units, Samsung contacted pre-order customers on April 22, saying it would announce a new release date "in the coming weeks" and would take measures to strengthen the display protection. The device's screen was shown to be vulnerable to debris ingress, thanks to an iFixit teardown that was later removed at Samsung's request.
The development is the latest in a series of embarrassing events for Samsung, whose hybrid tablet/smartphone was supposed to demonstrate the company leading innovation in the mobile space. Still, at least the device in its current state won't get into the hands of thousands of customers around the world, which would likely have turned into a larger problem.
Samsung has said it plans to make at least 1 million Galaxy Fold handsets in the first year of production, compared to the total 300 million phones it produces annually on average. It originally closed pre-orders for the device early because of "high demand."
With foldable smartphones from the likes of Samsung and Huawei now out in the open, speculation has been piqued over whether Apple will follow suit. We know the company has explored ideas related to foldable phones in patent applications, but Apple is unlikely to release a foldable iPhone unless it can meet strict quality standards, and judging by the bulky designs and expensive price tags of early foldable devices, that could still be some ways off.
Huawei Mate X
One innovation in particular that Apple could be holding out for is foldable glass. Early folding phone manufacturers have been relying on plastic polymers to make their flexible displays, but unlike glass, plastic creases and crinkles over time. The material is also less robust and easier to scratch, which is why the deviation from traditional glass smartphone panels is all the more noticeable.
Corning, the makers of Gorilla Glass, is known to be actively developing a foldable glass solution that could one day find its way into a future foldable iPhone. Corning is a long-time Apple supplier, and its Gorilla Glass products have been used in the iPhone and the iPad for several years, which makes its current work on glass that's 0.1mm thick and can bend to a 5mm radius all the more interesting.
"In a glass solution, you're really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage," Corning general manager John Bayne recently told Wired.
"The back of the problem we're trying to break, the technical challenge, is, can you keep those tight 3- to 5-millimeter bend radii and also increase the damage resistance of the glass. That's the trajectory we're on."
According to Wired, Corning is combining its experience with Willow Glass, which can roll up like a sheet of paper, and Gorilla Glass, which gets its strength from an ion-exchange process. Unfortunately, that process involves dipping glass into a molten salt solution, and salt corrodes the transistors found in display applications, which makes Willow Glass unsuitable for phones. Corning's work is currently focused on overcoming this challenge.
"We have glasses we've sampled to customers, and they're functional, but they're not quite meeting all the requirements," Bayne says. "People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both."
Bayne thinks the company's foldable glass will be ready for the mainstream in a couple of years. With a bit of luck, the $200 million that Apple granted Corning out of its $1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund will help the U.S. company achieve that goal.
In the wake of the launch of the Galaxy Fold, Samsung has begun shopping around its foldable display technology to other companies. ETNews (Translate) reports that they have specifically provided samples to Apple and Google:
According to the industry on the 27th, Samsung Display made a set of foldable display and delivered it to Apple. This set, which is actually powered like a smartphone, has a 7.2-inch size foldable panel. 7.2 inches is 0.1 inches smaller than the Samsung Folder 'Galaxy Fold'.
Samsung has historically been both supplier and competitor to Apple and other smartphone manufacturers and provides the OLED screens for Apple's top of the line iPhones. According to the report, Samsung doesn't intend to keep foldable technology to itself and is instead working to dominate as a supplier for the technology. Samsung is said to be able to produced about 2.4 million units a year at this time but is considering moving up to 10 million units a year depending on demand.
Apple has been known to be working on foldable display technology for years with patents on the implementation of similar technology. While there are ongoing rumors that Apple has been testing such technologies in the lab, Apple has not been speculated to implement the technology until 2020 at the earliest.
In a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today, titled "Electronic Devices With Flexible Displays," Apple explains that foldable smartphone displays could be prone to damage when bent in cold temperatures, and describes various heating methods to mitigate the issue.
For example, Apple says the portion of the display that bends could be heated by lighting up the pixels in that area of the screen. Alternatively, a "heating element or other heating structure" could be used, although Apple wasn't specific.
Apple's illustration of a folding device, along with an expanded view showing the bendable area of the display being heated
The patent application, highlighted by AppleInsider, notes that the foldable smartphone could have a magnetic latching mechanism that would prevent the device from being folded or unfolded in very cold temperatures to avoid damage to the display. This would be in environments "significantly below room temperature."
Apple files numerous patent applications every week, of course, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, the exact implementation if any remains to be seen.
While unique, early foldable smartphones from Samsung and Huawei are far from perfect, with bulky designs and expensive price tags. Apple is unlikely to release a foldable iPhone unless it can meet the company's strict quality standards.