How ditching the home button on iPhone X could pave the way for a dynamic, foldable future...

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in Future Apple Hardware
Moving away from the home button could allow for future iPhones to be used in a variety of different orientations -- and different physical form factors. AppleInsider explains how the absence of a physical home button on the iPhone X could set the stage for future radical design changes, amid rumors that Apple is interested in pursuing a folding iPhone.




Pie-in-the-sky rumors about future Apple products are nothing new, and reports from the Far East this week talked about a potential foldable iPhone concept, rumored to be in the works for 2020. Three years is, of course, seemingly an eternity in the smartphone space, meaning such rumors should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.

And yet there is still good reason to believe that Apple is, at the very least, interested in the concept of a foldable iPhone. This was further bolstered on Thursday, when AppleInsider discovered a new Apple patent application for foldable displays on portable devices.

The reports have generated speculation and curiosity, but also some confusion. A number of readers and commenters have wondered: What could possibly be the point of an iPhone that folds?


Bigger is better, except for the times when it isn't

Unless Apple envisions a fashionable return of cargo shorts, the company must undoubtedly recognize that jumbo-sized iPhones do not conveniently fit into all pockets or purses.

And reports suggest that the company is working on a so-called "iPhone X Plus" for 2018, boasting a massive edge-to-edge 6.46-inch display that would be the largest iPhone screen to date.


Foldable iPhone fan mockup concept.


Phones and their displays continue to get bigger, as customers prefer large, bright, gorgeous screens for viewing content, watching videos, playing games and more. But as phones get bigger, they're also becoming even less portable and pocketable.

Apple's own history shows they are acutely aware of this: When the iPhone 5 launched in 2012 with a larger 4-inch screen, Apple made a commercial showcasing how an average person's thumb could reach all four corners of the device when being used one-handed. The commercial concluded by calling the design of the iPhone 5 "a dazzling display of common sense."

When the iPhone 6 got even larger with 4.7- and 5.5-inch displays, Apple introduced a new feature dubbed Reachability for one-handed use. It lets a user can double-tap (but not press) the home button to bring the display to half height.

With the looming launch of the iPhone X and its tall 5.8-inch display, and a so-called "iPhone X Plus" rumored for 2018, it might seem as though Apple has lost focus on the pocketability of its devices.

But what if it's waiting on affordable, mass-market technology to catch up?

Best of both worlds: A huge screen, yet still pocketable

Enter the rumors of a foldable iPhone in the works. While current technology is not quite there, it's possible that future devices could fold in half (or in some other manneer) to take on a smaller, thicker form factor.

The advantages of this are clear: Phones, tablets and other devices could potentially boast bigger displays, while also becoming even more portable than they are now.

Clamshell designs are nothing new, of course. But they're almost impossible to accomplish with modern, large all-touchscreen devices -- at least with current technology.

There have been attempts to reconcile this in the past. Microsoft famously canceled a two-screened tablet concept dubbed Courier in 2010.

It required a physical, visible hinge in between two independent displays. It a novel concept, but it was also ugly.




But that was 2010. And we're now looking at a possible 2020 iPhone, with all of the advances in technology that have come and will continue to arrive. Suddenly, a foldable, pocketable iPhone with a seamless display isn't so far fetched (even if it isn't an imminent reality).

And there are signs that Apple's current design philosophy is paving the way for possible new, more dynamic form factors.

No home button, new possibilities




For years, the iPad has been usable in any orientation the user wishes, irregardless of where the home button is located. Not only portrait and landscape, but also in an "upside down" portrait mode where the home button is at the top of the display.

The intent behind this is clear: Apple wants the physical form factor of the device to get out of the way, allowing the user access their device in whatever manner they see fit.

The iPhone, until now, has lacked this capability systemwide. Apple added the ability to access the iPhone home screen in landscape mode starting with the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus, but non-Plus models lack this, keeping the device in portrait mode with the home button at the bottom.

But next month's launch of the iPhone X heralds a fresh start for the iPhone interface, one without a physical home button anywhere on the device. With a new edge-to-edge display, Apple has replaced the home button with a new gesture where users swipe up from the bottom of the screen to return to the home screen.

The short-term implications of this are a new way of interacting with the device and a new edge-to-edge form factor.

In fact, without a home button on the iPhone X to invoke Reachability, it's believed that Reachability is dead and the iPhone X was designed solely for two-handed use.

But thinking longer term, ditching the home button could allow future iPhones to not only be used in any orientation, like an iPad, but also to be used in any physical state -- like when folded in half.

A return to one-handed use?

A folding, pocketable iPhone might conjure up visions of an early-2000s Motorola Razr flip phone, where the clamshell design helps to protect the display.

But what if, instead of folding inward, Apple were to develop a phone that folded in half with the display on the outside? Suddenly, the lack of a home button paired with an edge-to-edge display takes on new meaning.


Foldable tablet concept from Lenovo, via Jez C.


Of course, this is purely speculation. But a folded half-height iPhone could allow new use cases beyond just portability.

With the display facing outward, a folded iPhone could potentially be usable in this state, with only half of the screen powered on. For situations where a user wants to simply pull their phone out of their pocket and send a quick text, this might be more convenient.

And given how thin current smartphones are, using one folded in half -- with double the thickness -- on an occasional basis wouldn't be so bad. In fact, in that state, it might still be even thinner in your hand than going back to an iPod.

A folded iPhone would introduce new complications, such as where the camera should be located, how the user interface might adapt, and how applications would be displayed.

But without a physical home button, one potential concern has already been addressed.


Still, don't hold your breath

Apple secretly experimenting with new and advanced technologies well in advance of their release is not surprising in the least. The company's chief designer, Jony Ive, revealed in an interview last week that the company was working on the edge-to-edge design of the iPhone X for 5 years.

The rumor mill claims that Apple is internally hoping that OLED maker LG will be able to satisfy its demands for a foldable display by 2020.

But in that same interview, Ive also noted that Apple's design philosophy seeks to solve problems, including ones that Apple itself created.

Consider the Apple Watch: Ive admitted that overuse of smartphones is a side effect of Apple's creation of the iPhone. He said that the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE aims to let users leave their phone behind on occasion, hopefully making overuse of the iPhone less common.

Like the Apple Watch aims to lessen our iPhone addiction, it's possible that a folding phone could address our big phone problem.

Progress takes time, and things can change. No one but those deep inside Apple's secret labs knows how realistic or likely a foldable iPhone is. And even if it does become a reality, it's still at least a few years out.

Perhaps the biggest question mark with a potential foldable iPhone would be how the cover glass would work. Would Apple be willing to ditch durable Gorilla Glass to achieve a foldable design? How scratch- and shatter-resistant would the new display be? Would it be possible to keep features like 3D Touch with a new, flexible display?

It's unlikely that this week's rumors will be the last we hear of a foldable iPhone. Competitors like Samsung and Lenovo, too, are already racing to introduce their own foldable phones and tablets.

Whether or not foldable devices actually become a "thing" remains to be seen. But when anticipating the future of technology, one thing is clear: It's best to be flexible.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,529moderator
    “...when anticipating the future of technology, one thing is clear: It's best to be flexible.”

    Exactly.  Flexible.  Not necessarily foldable.
    edited October 2017 macplusplusSoliSpamSandwichRayz2016
  • Reply 2 of 22
    I have one serious reservation with folding displays.

    What are they going to be like for typing on? You need a nice solid surface to interact with your device. A flexible or spongy screen is going to feel cheap. I don’t know how they’re going to make such a flexible screen feel solid when it’s undolded. 
    macplusplusSoliradarthekatdysamoria
  • Reply 3 of 22
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    SoliradarthekatmacplusplusdysamoriaSpamSandwichRayz2016welshdog
  • Reply 4 of 22
    "Bendgate 2020"
    radarthekatmacplusplusdeepinsiderwelshdog
  • Reply 5 of 22
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,711member
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    So, you've already closed your mind based on a rumor that claims the rumored product using rumored technology is three years away.
    Wouldn't you wait to at least see the device before drawing such a line in the sand?
  • Reply 6 of 22
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 747editor
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    You could make this same argument about a number of different technologies over the years.

    - Batteries that are charged nightly die too quickly from the constant cycle. I wouldn't want my computer to depend on a battery.
    - Flat panel displays are prone to ghosting and permanent burn-in. I'll stick to a CRT monitor.
    - Mobile data is too expensive and slow, and the reception is spotty. I'll stick to Wi-Fi.
    - Disc drives are too essential for daily computing, I can't get a computer without one.

    I could go on and on and on.
    fastasleepSoundJudgment
  • Reply 7 of 22
    A surface stiff enough to address the concerns in comment 2 is going to break with frequent bending. Barring the discovery of a miraculous substance, that fact of physics isn’t going to change. Anyone selling bending displays is going to expect people to buy a new one every year.

    No, thanks.
    edited October 2017 dysamoriamacplusplusradarthekat
  • Reply 8 of 22
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 1,777member
    A surface stiff enough to address the concerns in comment 2 is going to break with frequent bending. Barring the discovery of a miraculous substance, that fact of physics isn’t going to change. Anyone selling bending displays is going to expect people to buy a new one every year.

    No, thanks.
    Careful; people don't like the limits of the physical world being brought into their fantasy technology dreams...
    deepinsider
  • Reply 9 of 22
    Great stuff but Apple will never launch it because it is only interested in the billions market.
    That makes it a slow adopter of new technology - it has too many vested interests  and milking existing designs will earn them more.  Same for Samsung. 
    This design idea has been around since 2014 and both giants were fighting to make the least of it
    So hopefully a smaller company will break open this slow turds' duopoly of nonnovation
    For example: https://www.google.nl/amp/www.androidauthority.com/ztes-foldable-axon-m-smartphone-hits-fcc-806291/amp/
    edited October 2017
  • Reply 10 of 22
    I think this is a great idea and the technology will eventually catch up with this in the not to dostant future (mainly technology to be able to mass produce this and make it reliable enough to bend without breaking over a useful life of the device).

    Only issue I would have is protection of the screen when it is reverse folded and case makers will be wondering how the hell are we going to make a case for that! ;-)

    Cheers Dr Hawk
  • Reply 11 of 22
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,582member
    nhughes said:
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    You could make this same argument about a number of different technologies over the years.

    - Batteries that are charged nightly die too quickly from the constant cycle. I wouldn't want my computer to depend on a battery.
    - Flat panel displays are prone to ghosting and permanent burn-in. I'll stick to a CRT monitor.
    - Mobile data is too expensive and slow, and the reception is spotty. I'll stick to Wi-Fi.
    - Disc drives are too essential for daily computing, I can't get a computer without one.

    I could go on and on and on.
    Discovering or developing a material that you can tightly fold and unfold about a thousand times a year for at least four years and it doesn't form a visible crease or break.  I say that's a taller older than any of the examples you gave.
    macplusplusdeepinsiderwelshdog
  • Reply 12 of 22
    No one wants a foldable phone.

    firat off, it simply flexes and that's ok for a display that needs to wrap around a pillar or something. 

    But to actually compute on? No thank you. 

    Thete re is a reason why keyboards are still flat for the most part. 

    And remember when curved displays were supposed supposed to be this huge deal? Then people found it wasn't an optimal viewing experience. 

    The bending of a display is a novelty. One that wears off quickly. 

    It it doesn't solve any real problem - in fact, it likely creates one as the materials will wear with each flex. 

    Apple has been good at saying "no" to fads and neato new stuff that doesn't really accomplish a focused mission historically. Here's hoping they continue to say "no" to things like this, while neat and cool, are simply gimmicks with little benefit yet plenty of potential drawback. 


    LukeCagedeepinsider
  • Reply 13 of 22
    tshapitshapi Posts: 285member
    I don’t see Apple coming out with a “foldable” phone. 

    I see the following possibilities. 
    1) use in few Apple Watch. With technology like this the watch can become one seemless band that wraps around most of the wrist.  
    2) imagine an iPad or iPhone that can roll up or retract into some type of tube. 

    3) imagine an iPad/iPhone that can curve.  It doesn’t Fold orbcomplety roll up , but you can bend it in the form of a curve to stand itvon it’s side and watch a movie. Like a curved tv or monitors. 

    but like I said, Apple isn’t one to directly follow  the crowd. 

    If it has taken Apple “5 years” to reach iPhone X and I think the underlying statement there is that it has taken Apple 5 years to perfect the concept of face id and augmented reality to build it into that phone.  

    I don’t see Apple coming out with a phone that simply just folds in half.  They have high standards. 
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Even if all the concerns for this tech are fixed, I can only see this being useful for tablet devices. Having an ipad fold out to the size of a smallish IMac would be amazing for those that draw or illustrate for a living. However I think this tech would be amazing for a wearables. Especially for wearables that would benefit from a screen, like a watch or glasses or some kind of visor. 
  • Reply 15 of 22
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,529moderator
    Bacillus3 said:
    Great stuff but Apple will never launch it because it is only interested in the billions market.
    That makes it a slow adopter of new technology - it has too many vested interests  and milking existing designs will earn them more.  Same for Samsung. 
    This design idea has been around since 2014 and both giants were fighting to make the least of it
    So hopefully a smaller company will break open this slow turds' duopoly of nonnovation
    For example: https://www.google.nl/amp/www.androidauthority.com/ztes-foldable-axon-m-smartphone-hits-fcc-806291/amp/
    And yet, despite your naive assertion, no small company is going to develop advanced OLED display tech, much less foldable.  Too many patents involved just to duplicate existing OLED display tech, plus multi-billion $ manufacturing processes to actually create the stuff, and then make it all foldable?  13 posts in.  
  • Reply 16 of 22
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,529moderator
    tundraboy said:
    nhughes said:
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    You could make this same argument about a number of different technologies over the years.

    - Batteries that are charged nightly die too quickly from the constant cycle. I wouldn't want my computer to depend on a battery.
    - Flat panel displays are prone to ghosting and permanent burn-in. I'll stick to a CRT monitor.
    - Mobile data is too expensive and slow, and the reception is spotty. I'll stick to Wi-Fi.
    - Disc drives are too essential for daily computing, I can't get a computer without one.

    I could go on and on and on.
    Discovering or developing a material that you can tightly fold and unfold about a thousand times a year for at least four years and it doesn't form a visible crease or break.  I say that's a taller older than any of the examples you gave.
    Totally agree.  But it wouldn’t be 1000 times a year.  My girlfriend sparks up her phone at least 100 times a day.  All of Niel’s examples benefitted from stepwise evolution.  Batteries weren’t initially as good as they are now, had memory issues and such, for example.  But foldable displays will need to provide, out of the gate, an experience comparable to existing displays, which are highly evolved and advanced.  The glass cover versus plastic mush feel is going to have to be dealt with, user’s won’t accept a huge step backwards.  3D Touch will need to be supported, with Taptic feedback, which would be a challenge on a soft touch surface.  
  • Reply 17 of 22
    A surface stiff enough to address the concerns in comment 2 is going to break with frequent bending. Barring the discovery of a miraculous substance, that fact of physics isn’t going to change.

    No, thanks.
    I KNEW Flubber had a real purpose!!
  • Reply 18 of 22
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 747editor
    tundraboy said:
    nhughes said:
    When you fold something over and over, it weakens along the fold line and eventually breaks. I’ll stick with unfoldable screens, thanks. Phones are too expensive to be made so easily broken.
    You could make this same argument about a number of different technologies over the years.

    - Batteries that are charged nightly die too quickly from the constant cycle. I wouldn't want my computer to depend on a battery.
    - Flat panel displays are prone to ghosting and permanent burn-in. I'll stick to a CRT monitor.
    - Mobile data is too expensive and slow, and the reception is spotty. I'll stick to Wi-Fi.
    - Disc drives are too essential for daily computing, I can't get a computer without one.

    I could go on and on and on.
    Discovering or developing a material that you can tightly fold and unfold about a thousand times a year for at least four years and it doesn't form a visible crease or break.  I say that's a taller older than any of the examples you gave.
    A revolutionary computing device in your pocket was once a tall order, too.

    To be clear, I'm not saying that a folding iPhone is an inevitability, or even likely. But Apple would be stupid to not at least explore it. I'm sure they are.
    radarthekat
  • Reply 19 of 22
    Lovers of feature phones can look forward. You will have feature phone and when you unfold it you will have tablet :-D Other question is whether folded phone will have screen outside or inside. Then it has to have some at least small display outside as well.
    edited October 2017
  • Reply 20 of 22
    Anyone selling bending displays is going to expect people to buy a new one every year.
    The way Apple’s headed, this seems to be their goal anyway.
    frantisek said:
    Other question is whether folded phone will have screen outside or inside. Then it has to have some at least small display outside as well.
    Why would that make ANY sense?
    edited October 2017
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