Apple’s Foldable iPhone Patents and the Inevitability of Foldable Displays

In a few weeks, at the Samsung Developers Conference in San Francisco, Samsung’s Mobile Chief, DJ Koh, is slated to introduce their first foldable smartphone. This has been rumored to be in the works for over a year, and if he introduces this foldable, which would also double as a small tablet, it would be the first of its kind in the market.

In May, after I attended the SID conference in LA, I wrote about the folding displays I saw from Visionox and BOE and that behind the scenes, Samsung was showing their foldable screen to potential customers. It appears that Samsung will be using their display in their version of a folding smartphone/tablet device.

While Samsung may be first to the market with a foldable, Apple may not be too far behind. Recently, Patently Apple wrote about a whole host of patents that Apple was granted and one specifically covered a foldable iPhone.

What’s interesting about this granted patent is that it was submitted to the patent office years ago. That means that Apple has been working on a foldable iPhone for quite some time and this is not a knee-jerk reaction to Samsung doing a foldable phone now. This granted patent could also become a problem for Samsung if Samsung’s version in any way treads on this issued patent Apple just received. To date, we have not seen any patents granted to Samsung in this same area.

While first movers like Samsung might blaze a trail in foldable smartphone/tablet like devices, Apple has a long history of letting other companies release any new design first and then eventually doing their own using their award-winning design principles and only the best and most appropriate materials. Then they tie it to their overall eco-system of apps and services and, although being late to the foldable device party, end up with the lion’s share of the profits.

I do somewhat get a sense from Samsung’s pre-announced rhetoric that they are not certain this first generation foldable device will be a hit. They specifically said it would use a plastic cover for the screen cover and plastic is not scratch proof, and over time the folding crease can have a blur effect that mars its clarity. Although they say they plan to release it next year at some point, I almost wonder if it is more a beta product and they are waiting for a glass cover solution before going all out in its push and promotion.

What is notable about Samsung’s folding smartphone/tablet device is that it has the potential of starting a major refresh of smartphone purchases. To date, smartphone demand worldwide has plateaued even though many buy new smartphones every year. But a new foldable design could revitalize the market for smartphones in general and drive a major refresh of people upgrading to a new, foldable smartphone as early as 2020, especially if Apple brings their version out around that time frame.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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