Foldable iPhone may use geared hinges to fold inwards or outwards

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 5
Apple is researching the use of geared hinges that would strengthen a foldable iPhone's screen. These hinges could allow the iPhone to be folded both inwards like a book, and outwards to have a form of wraparound screen.

Detail from the patent showing geared hinges on a foldable display
Detail from the patent showing geared hinges on a foldable display


Apple has previously applied for many patents about a foldable iPhone, ranging from slidable displays and scroll-like screens, to ones with articulated hinges. There are now so many that it's surely certain that a foldable iPhone is coming -- but also that these overlapping or conflicting research options can't all be used.

A newly revealed patent application, "Folding Electronic Devices With Geared Hinges," for instance, is similar but seemingly incompatible with prior ones about hinges. This one is unusual, though, in how it covers a hinge option that could allow for the iPhone to be folded in two directions.

"When compact size is desired in a folding configuration, device can be adjusted to be compact by folding portions... together," says the patent application. "Device and display may, as an example, be folded inwardly and/or outwardly about [a] bend axis."

It's highly possible that this description is actually Apple doing what it always does in patents, and attempt to cover every conceivable interpretation of its idea. For example, this patent application's drawings are all about the iPhone, but Apple makes sure it says the foldable display could be for anything from a phone to a laptop, and even goggles or a kiosk.

Nonetheless, this application emphasizes that a device using its method of geared hinges could be made to fold one way and/or the other.

"In inwardly folding configurations," it continues, "two halves of display face each other when device is folded. In outwardly folding configurations, two halves of display face away from each other when device is folded."

Whether Apple decides to make an iPhone that folds one way or two, the key concern of this patent application is to provide the maximum viewable display while not sacrificing portability.

"If care is not taken, a display may not offer sufficient screen real estate to display information of interest to a user," says Apple. "At the same time, it can be difficult to enlarge the size of electronic devices too much to accommodate larger displays, because this can make devices bulky."

Three separate extracts from the patent drawings show (L-R) a geared hinge moving from folded to unfolded
Three separate extracts from the patent drawings show (L-R) a geared hinge moving from folded to unfolded


Apple's proposed solution is to support the large, folded-out display with a hinge that, "may include toothed members such as gears and a rack member." The rack member is the surface that the user sees, the surface that holds the display.

"The rack member may have a surface with curved portions," continues Apple. "The gears may include rotating gears that walk along the curved portions of the rack member as the electronic device is folded and unfolded."

"The hinge may include gears that are fixedly attached to the first and second housing portions and that engage the rotating gears," says the patent application. "Linkage members may hold together the rotating gears, fixed gears, and the rack member."

The most striking part of the idea is that an iPhone could be made where you open it up like a book to read, or you wrap one display around the back of the other. Whether or not Apple chooses to allow both options, this patent application suggests that geared hinges would make any folding screen more robust.

That in theory could apply regardless of which screen technology is used, as the patent application makes sure to say it applies to everything possible. "The display may be an organic light-emitting diode display, a micro-light-emitting diode display formed from an array of crystalline semiconductor light-emitting diode dies, and/or may be any other suitable display," it says.

Previous rumors have said that Apple may have ordered foldable OLED screens from Samsung. Separate reports have said Foxconn is testing the foldable iPhone at present.

The patent application is credited to three inventors, including Michael B. Wittenberg. His previous work includes a related patent application regarding articulated hinges for a foldable iPhone.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    qwerty52watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 16
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    I can't speak for everyone else, but I would seriously buy an iPad mini-formated iPhone Pro; which pretty much is what I envision a foldable iPhone would be like unfolded.

    When making calls I never put the iPhone up to my ear (it's either AirPods, or speaker); and the big iPhones I already find too big to carry with me unless I have a pocket/bag where an iPad mini would fit anyways. So I basically just want a bigger device, no matter if it's foldable or not.

    A bit of context here: I do have a cellular Apple Watch, so I do have the most minimalistic "iPhone" with me all the time; and I often just use my iPhone and a foldable keyboard as my mobile work kit when all I need to do is type emails and make video calls.
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 3 of 16
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    Me too. I still can’t see the use of it. Walking around the all day with a brick of two iPhones glued together in your pocket?
    And you will need this brick many, many more times a day as a phone, then as a kind of mini-mini tablet!
    For the same money you can buy an iPhone and a iPad (a real tablet!)

    edited December 2020 radarthekatmac_dogcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 16
    qwerty52 said:
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    Me too. I still can’t see the use of it. Walking around the all day with a brick of two iPhones glued together in your pocket?
    And you will need this brick many, many more times a day as a phone, then as a kind of mini-mini tablet!
    For the same money you can buy an iPhone and a iPad (a real tablet!)

    What if they didn't call it a 2x brick of an iPhone, but a real iPad tablet that can be folded in half to fit into smaller pockets/bags; that would still be the same product, just with a narrative that would more fit into how you would like to view it…?
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 16
    I can’t think of a practical use case that could justify putting $millions ingot making this a reality. At first glance, I suspect it would be wildly successful just bcoz a) it’s a new Apple product; b) for the novelty/bragging rights; c) we’re in the midst of a pandemic and those that can afford it are looking for something to do with their money. 

    Regardless, out the gate, it needs to be as durable as the current line of products or it will fail miserably.

    It has to be a wildly successful toy (and by that, I mean that it won’t really be necessary to get the job done with the current line, if even just a little inconvenient, or it has to be some serious Star Wars shit that we’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s combined with Apple glass? Perhaps a folding pair of glasses? That would be cool. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 16
    entropysentropys Posts: 2,828member
    A foldable iPad, yes. A foldable phone will end up too thick unless one side is just the screen.
    edited December 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 16
    mac_dog said:
    I can’t think of a practical use case that could justify putting $millions ingot making this a reality. 
    You also very likely didn't think of the AirPods, or the Watch, or any number of use cases outside your experience. 
    mac_dog said:
    At first glance, I suspect it would be wildly successful just bcoz a) it’s a new Apple product; b) for the novelty/bragging rights; c) we’re in the midst of a pandemic and those that can afford it are looking for something to do with their money. 
     
    Yeah except those are reasons why Apple products are successful. Particularly the last reason....I don't know anyone who is wasting money on Apple tools because they're...what, bored or something? Yeah cool story bro.
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 16
    mike54mike54 Posts: 407member
    Geared hinges!... such a surprising innovation
  • Reply 9 of 16
    I really like the foldable tablets as they appear in Westworld, but in reality, the more moving parts you have, the more chances for breakage. People are dumb enough as it is (e.g. all the cracked phone screens out in the wild). Don't give them another way to break their device.
    qwerty52
  • Reply 10 of 16
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    Little to none. There are currently no successful versions of any such product.

    Its a solution looking for a problem.
    qwerty52
  • Reply 11 of 16
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    Wasn't the same thing said about the flip-phone?
  • Reply 12 of 16
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 5,595member
    Serious question. What type of market is there for a foldable phone?
    Potentially, huge. However, there are a lot of conditions to this. Price and durability being the main two. 

    If prices come down and durability is proven over time, I'm sure the folding, scrollable or otherwise re-sizable phone will create its own market segment.

    The world is already full of folding devices. Folding phones will simply be another addition. 
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 16
    igorskyigorsky Posts: 493member
    mike54 said:
    Geared hinges!... such a surprising innovation
    Always one of these guys...
    cornchip
  • Reply 15 of 16
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,821member
    Hahah With the hardware keyboard! Fantastic.
  • Reply 16 of 16
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 5,595member
    For a 1st generation product, it's actually pretty good. As usual, price is astronomical and durability will have to be proven but reviews seem to be favourable.

    This video is sponsored by Lenovo but it gives a quick run down of where the machine is focused and Brownlee is a pretty well respected commentator.



    The optional hardware keyboard gives users options. 

    I'm not a fan of the bezels and the price makes it early adopter fare but first gen bleeding edge products are like that.

    Hopefully, one day, there will be thin bezeled cheaper variants on the market. 

    muthuk_vanalingam
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