Apple is exploring the possibility of a foldable iPhone built using carbon nanotubes to make it resistant to cracking. A new patent awarded to the company describes a device with a hinge or flexible seam that would allow it to be bent down the middle like a book.
Previous patents filed by Apple have indicated that the company is exploring the possibility of flexible electronic devices, however the latest filing is the first to refer to the iPhone by name, confirming that Apple is indeed considering a bendable smartphone. Patently Apple notes that the patent was filed under the name of one of its engineers rather than the company itself, helping it remain under wraps.
The patent was awarded to Apple by the USPTO on 1 November, and describes a device built from ceramic, glass, aluminium, plastic of fibre and containing both rigid and flexible portions. More significant is the described use of carbon nanotubes, which would allow the device to flex while remaining functional.
The patent reads: "Conductive carbon nanotube paths can form signal paths that are flexible and resistant to cracking. The carbon nanotube structures may be incorporated into signal cables such as flexible printed circuit cables, rigid printed circuit boards, printed circuits that include rigid portions with flexible tails (sometimes referred to as "rigid flex"), portions of display structures, portions of touch sensors such as capacitive touch sensor arrays for displays or track pads, camera structures, antenna structures, housing structures, internal device structures, electrical components, substrates, brackets, housing walls, other structures, or combinations of these structures."
While it seems like a far-fetched concept and one we are unlikely to see arrive any time soon, a lot of the technology is already here. Samsung has long waved the banner for bendable displays with its YOUM technology, which we first saw way back in 2012 and later in fanciful concept videos for future Samsung phones in 2013 (see below).
LG has also become a purveyor of all things flexible in recent years. The South Korean company has invested £1.33bn to boost production of flexible OLED screens for mobile devices, which will enter production in 2018. It has even developed foldable and roll-up displays in the past and is also responsible for 2013's LG G Flex, which features a curved, flexible screen.
The pursuit of bendy smartphones isn't just an aesthetic one: there are practical benefits too, such as the fact that bendable screens are far less prone to breaking and could make phones both more versatile and be easier to carry around.
We're probably still a few years away from having a bendable iPhone in our pockets, but with so many major manufacturers pursuing the technology so intensely, it's safe to bet that our phones will start to look radically different in the not-so-distant future.