iPhone Flip: what we know about Apple’s foldable plan

Over the past few years, Samsung’s annual August Galaxy Unpacked events have raised the same question among iPhone fans: When will Apple give us something like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 or Galaxy Z Fold 4?

Rumors of Apple’s work on foldable iPhone technology have been making the rounds for years. Despite the amount of scuttlebutt we hear about Apple’s research and development on this mythic device, it always strangely seems to be both right around the corner and years away at the same time.

Apple iPhone Flip prototype.
Multi Tech Media

The only thing that seems clear is that Apple is experimenting with at least one foldable iPhone deep within its skunkworks. Beyond that, it’s hard to say what an “iPhone Flip” may actually look like or even when we’ll see one. Still, here’s what we know about the purported iPhone flip phone from piecing together the various clues over the years. 

Design and display

Very little is known about the design Apple may ultimately use for its first foldable iPhone. Samsung has covered the two most obvious styles with the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 — but that doesn’t mean Apple has to follow suit. Apple has filed dozens of patents hinting at designs for a foldable iPhone, but these contain so many possibilities that it’s anybody’s guess right now as to what direction the company will go in. They can’t all be right. 

We do know that Apple is actively working on foldable prototypes. Numerous reports reveal that Apple has been developing and testing foldable OLED screens and hinges since at least 2017, and research and development are still ongoing. 

Apple iPhone Flip prototype.
Concepts iPhone

In 2016, LG began mass-producing foldable displays, indicating it planned to supply them to several companies, including Apple. That notion gained more steam in late 2017 when sources claimed Apple and LG had actively partnered to develop specific foldable display technology for a future iPhone — a partnership that’s still ongoing.

By 2020, Apple and Samsung Display had reportedly signed a deal in which the display maker would supply a “large number” of foldable display samples over a year to be used for testing foldable iPhone prototypes. At the same time, Apple had also reportedly begun testing hinges, looking for both a display and a hinge that could withstand up to 100,000 folds. 

To put this in perspective, most laptop hinges are rated for somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 folds. However, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 can survive at least 200,000 folds. We haven’t heard whether Apple has since raised its standard to match that of Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 sitting on a bench.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple also appears to be testing a few significantly different designs. Early in 2020, leaker Jon Prosser claimed to have seen a prototype device that used a two-screen design similar to Microsoft’s Surface Neo and Surface Duo rather than a single foldable display. 

However, by the following year, Prosser said his sources had informed him that after completing the first round of hinge testing, Apple would be putting all its efforts into a clamshell foldable iPhone with a design similar to the Galaxy Z Flip. Prosser also claimed this iPhone would come in more “joyful” colors to target “more mainstream customers.” 

Meanwhile, industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that Apple’s first foldable would be considerably larger and might not even be an iPhone, per se. Instead, Kuo predicted an entirely new class of devices with a 7.5 to 8-inch display that would blur the line between the iPhone and the iPad. Unlike Prosser, Kuo doesn’t claim to have seen any examples of this device. 

Foldable iPhone prototype.
Patently Apple

It’s worth noting that although Prosser has often been correct about Apple’s product release dates, he has a much less reliable track record when it comes to Apple products since he relies primarily on sources who claim to have inside information on what’s going on inside Apple. Kuo’s predictions usually come from the other direction, as he looks at trends within Apple’s supply chain and the type of components in demand.

Of course, like Samsung, Apple may have two devices in the pipeline: A clamshell foldable “iPhone Flip” that’s designed for fun, along with a more serious business-class “iPhone Fold” or “iPad Fold.”

Cameras and other specs

An early 2021 report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman may throw a dash of cold water on leakers who claim they’ve already seen folding iPhone prototypes. According to Gurman, Apple’s development of a foldable iPhone hasn’t moved beyond the display, and the company “doesn’t yet have full handset prototypes in its labs.” 

In nearly two years since that report, we’ve heard little more than the occasional confirmation that Apple is still in the early stages of experimenting with multiple designs.

There’s been no information available on what we’ll see regarding cameras, processors, and other features. That’s not surprising at this stage, as it’s likely Apple hasn’t even made these decisions yet. Of course, there’s tons of speculation, but that should all be taken with skepticism.

Flip software

While most of the leaks and reports have focused on the hardware and design of a folding iPhone, Apple is also likely hard at work on the software side of things. Neither iOS nor iPadOS, as they exist today, will easily translate to a foldable design. This year, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 showed us that the software interface is as essential to the foldable experience as the hardware design. 

Multiple apps running at once on the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Given Apple’s meticulous attention to user experiences, the company is likely already tossing around ideas for a foldable version of its mobile operating system. Depending on what direction the iPhone Flip goes, we might see an entirely new derivative of iOS appearing on it. 

Release date

Although Apple is actively testing designs for one or more foldable iPhones, multiple sources have indicated that the company isn’t entirely sold on the idea yet. At best, a foldable iPhone is years away; at worst, we may never see one at all.

In his early 2021 report, Gurman made it clear that Apple hadn’t “solidified plans to actually launch a foldable iPhone.” In early 2022, MacRumors shared a message from leaker “Dylandkt” that SAID Apple still had concerns over the viability of foldable display technology and whether there was even a sufficient market for foldable smartphones. 

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 standing upside down on a table.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

In a Tweet thread that has since been deleted along with Dylandkt’s Twitter account, the leaker said that even though Apple is still working on different ideas, some within the company feel that the display technology hasn’t reached maturity. 

Not surprisingly, sources claim that Apple is “playing the long game,” waiting to see how the technology progresses. It also wants to make sure there’s a long-term market for foldable smartphones and that this isn’t merely a passing fad that will diminish in a few years. 

Still, last year Kuo predicted that Apple would release its first foldable iPhone by 2023, targeted at mainstream consumers and forecasting that shipments could reach up to 20 million units in the first year. Kuo also expects Apple to use the most advanced display technology possible to give it “a long-term competitive advantage” and make it “the biggest winner in the new foldable device trend.” 

However, earlier this year, display analyst Ross Young, who has a pretty solid track record when it comes to anything concerning screen technology, shared that he’d been told by sources in the supply chain that a foldable iPhone won’t be appearing before 2025, and that’s a very preliminary estimate. “The company does not appear to be in a hurry to enter the foldable smartphone market, and it may even take longer than that,” Young noted in his February 2022 foldable/rollable display shipment and technology report. Kuo corroborated this timeline a few months later. 

I expected Apple to launch a foldable iPhone as soon as 2024 in my reports last year, but now it's clear this prediction needs to be revised. I predict Apple may launch its first foldable product in 2025 at the earliest, which may be a foldable iPad or a hybrid of iPad & iPhone. https://t.co/HGIDPFvdar

— 郭明錤 (Ming-Chi Kuo) (@mingchikuo) April 1, 2022

It’s important to remember that 2025 is just the latest estimate in a long history of rumors and predictions. Three years ago, analysts and leakers predicted a foldable iPhone would arrive by 2021, which eventually became 2022, and then 2023. Now it’s 2025, but we don’t recommend holding your breath that this prediction will be any more reliable than the others. 

So far, people haven’t begun abandoning the iPhone in droves to move to foldable devices. Apple still sells hundreds of millions of new iPhones annually — often without even trying. Until that slows down or competing devices like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 become overwhelmingly popular, Apple doesn’t have much reason to make an iPhone Flip a priority. If you’re an iPhone user who really wants a foldable smartphone in the near future, sadly, it looks like you’ll have to switch teams. 

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