Apple's Latest Folding Phone Patent Shows Touch Bar, Notification Strip

By Holly Brockwell on at

Apple has been one of the few phone manufacturers not to release or even publicly show a folding smartphone prototype, but that doesn't mean it isn't interested.

A new patent filed by Apple and granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office shows a potential new design for a folding iPhone: one with a Touch Bar that's still accessible when the phone is closed.

Patent images uncovered by Patently Apple also show a thin strip display on the outside of the phone, which would be used to show important notifications without having to open the whole thing up.

If you're thinking "Hooray! Apple are releasing a foldable!", hold your fanboy horses. The company has patented approximately one bajillion foldable designs in the last few years, and none of them have yet come close to actually being released.

The patent is one of 63 (!) just granted to Apple, which likes to get protection on all kinds of designs it may or may not ever use. Past foldable ideas patented by the company include a very cool pull-out scroll-like screen and a MacBook with fabric hinges.

The new design doesn't specify that it's a phone: it just says "electronic device." The language is all legal-tastic so it doesn't give us much of an idea of what we could expect from an iFold, but it does list some of the potential uses of the outside screen:

"Protruding display portion [...] may be used to display any suitable content.

As an example, notifications of incoming messages (emails, text messages, etc.), calendar content (e.g., meeting reminders), alerts (e.g., alarms, location-based alerts, etc.), battery status, wireless signal strength, airplane mode status, and other status information may be displayed on protruding display portion.

[...] The content that is displayed may be interactive (e.g., the content may include selectable on-screen items such as selectable icons, selectable buttons, selectable menu options, and/or other selectable content). Selectable content may be selected by supplying user input to select a displayed item (e.g., with an overlapping touch sensor and/or force sensor and/or with nearby touch sensors, force sensors, buttons, etc.)"

In other words you'd probably be able to use the outside screen to see how much battery you've got left and whether you've got any messages. That's a design we've seen quite a few times in the past on clamshell phones like the Sony Ericsson Jalou and the short-lived O2 Cocoon.

The description of the overlapping edge says it could be used for touch sensors or buttons, to act like the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar. Will it ever actually get made? Your guess is as good as ours. [9To5Mac]

Images: USPTO