Apple's foldable iPhone could automatically close itself to protect itself

Development of the foldable iPhone appears to be continuing, as a recently discovered patent application suggests that Apple is looking for a way to better protect its device from drops.

Available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office website (opens in a new tab), the app is called Self-Retracting Display Device and Screen Protection Techniques in Fall Detection Aid. A nice mouthful, but it succinctly describes how Apple can aim to minimize screen damage. As described, the device will have some kind of sensor inside it like an accelerometer. If it detects that the iPhone has been dropped, the sensor will send a signal to an "electronically adjustable locking mechanism" to quickly close the phone.

The app suggests that the mechanism may not close completely if the iPhone is too close to the ground, leaving it partially open. But that's great because, according to the patent, "even folding the screen into a lesser angle [than] 180 degrees can [still] provide some protection. At the very least, the impact will be on the sides rather than directly on the screen.

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Another angle Apple is looking at in the app is the hinge. The foldable iPhone can consist of two separate screens that connect to each other when the device is unfolded instead of having a normal hinge in the middle. So when the phone is closed, the top screen separates from the bottom, which is supposed to help with protection. It's hard to say for sure because the document doesn't describe exactly how things will work. Rather, the app explains how things can work on the phone.

Much of the patent document talks about the capabilities of the foldable iPhone. For example, the sensor behind fall protection may consist of "accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, and/or other components" to detect motion. However, Apple does not directly target a specific technology. The most important thing for the company is that the internal mechanisms are capable of detecting when the speed of the fall “exceeds a predetermined threshold” in order to close automatically. It remains to be seen if the device is actually capable of registering a drop fast enough to shut down completely.

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Rumors of a foldable iPhone have been circulating the internet for about three years. Meanwhile, more patents were leaked and we could see the concept of the device change in real time. One design "had two hinges for three hypothetical screens" that allowed the phone to fold into a Z-shape, while another prototype experimented with an e-paper screen. Don't hold your breath with the soon-to-be-launched "iPhone Fold," though. The latest leaks point to a 2025 release, so you have plenty of time to save up for what is likely to be a very expensive smartphone.

If you want something now, check out TechRadar's list of the best foldable phones for 2023.

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