© Provided by CNET Apple's foldable iPhone, which could be called the iPhone Flip, may look something like these renders by YouTuber ConceptsiPhone. ConceptsiPhone
Apple unveiled the iPhone 13 at its September event on Tuesday. The new iPhone lineup, which includes a standard, Mini, Pro and Pro Max version, houses an upgraded battery, new storage options, updated camera features, a A15 Bionic processor and a smaller notch. The company also took the wraps off the Apple Watch 7, iPad Mini 6 and updated entry-level iPad. But, as expected, we didn't get a foldable iPhone.
© Richard Peterson/CNET
Rumors from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman said we won't see a foldable iPhone, said to be called the iPhone Flip, for another two to three years, so it wasn't a surprise when it didn't make an appearance at Apple's September launch event. But, that hasn't stopped the buzz about the possibility of a foldable iPhone.
While competitors have released various foldable handsets -- Samsung's bendy Galaxy Fold, Z Fold 2 and Z Fold 3, and clamshell Galaxy Z Flip and Z Flip 3 (here's how Samsung's foldable phones compare), and the reboot of the Motorola Razr, to name a few -- Apple has been slower to market. This may be a smart move, since existing foldables have been met with mixed reviews.
We've been following reports of a foldable iPhone for years. Way back in 2017, it was predicted that a foldable iPhone could be coming in the futuristic-sounding year 2020. Obviously, that didn't happen. Analysts and leakers have been kicking the release date down the road ever since, and rumors and wish lists have simmered. Here's everything we know so far.
Release date: The iPhone Flip launch is a moving target
It's no secret Apple has its sights set on a foldable iPhone. The company has been registering patents for foldable mechanisms and devices for almost a decade now with no launch date in sight. The question is whether any of them will ever see the light of day, and if so, when?
Early rumors pointed to 2021 as a potential target date, but a report from longtime Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo (via MacRumors) suggests 2023 might be more realistic, if it ever happens. According to Kuo, Apple still needs to figure out technology and mass production issues before bringing a device like this to market, hence the two-year wait.
Read more: Top foldable phones for 2021
Speculation from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman aligns with Kuo's predictions. In his Power On Newsletter, Gurman says that the foldable iPhone may not arrive for another two to three years.
Design: What will the foldable iPhone look like?
The 2023 timeline would match up with a report from Bloomberg earlier this year that indicated Apple already has a working prototype of a foldable iPhone display. While it's not yet a working model, it's a step up from a patent which, until then, was all we had seen.
© Provided by CNET This illustration, according to Apple's patent filing, shows a "device that bends along a flexible portion such as a flexible seam associated with a hinge." Apple/US Patent and Trademark Office
Apple seems to have taken out every patent under the sun when it comes to foldable displays, including an origami-style folding display, a flip-up display and even a wraparound display. And while we don't know which one will make the final cut, both Kuo and Bloomberg seem to agree that the current prototype is more of a traditional foldout design that would open up to a 7.5- or 8-inch main display.
Unlike Microsoft's Surface Duo, which has the hinges on the exterior, Apple's would have one continuous display with a hidden hinge mechanism like the Galaxy Fold.
However, Apple leaker Jon Prosser reported in early 2021 that the iPhone Flip will likely use a clamshell design and come in several "fun colors." Between the flashy purple iPhone 12, the new blue and pink option for the iPhone 13, an array of fun colors for Apple's first foldable device is definitely a possibility.
YouTuber ConceptsiPhone also gave us a glimpse into what the iPhone Flip could look with concept art of the foldable iPhone in the colors blue, red, gold and green.
Roadblocks: What still stands in Apple's way?
© Provided by CNET Corning is working on bendable glass for foldable phones. Richard Peterson/CNET
While Samsung and others have been testing the waters, Apple has been learning from the pain points of their foldable devices and figuring out how they'd be used.
One of these pain points: the crease. A lot of the current cover materials, including the glass and plastic mix that Samsung uses for the Z Fold and Z Flip, show a visible crease when folded out to full screen. To avoid it, Apple would likely have to wait for Corning , Apple's glass provider, to create some kind of bendable version of its Ceramic Shield screen. The company is already working on a bendable glass, but hasn't announced a launch date for it.
Cost: Foldable phones don't come cheap
Price is another major problem for these types of devices. Although Samsung lowered the price for its most recent foldable phones, its previous model, the Fold 2, cost $2,000 which is over twice the price of Samsung's other flagship phones. And, a foldable iPhone wouldn't be any cheaper. Apple's foldable needs to be in line with current foldable and nonfoldable models to be able to compete against other brands and entice iPhone users to ditch their single-screen devices and pay more for a foldable.
A report in April found that half of American consumers are interested in buying a foldable phone, though Apple customers are slightly less willing to make the leap than Samsung or LG users. But perhaps the "Apple effect" will change those stats if and when a foldable iPhone ever becomes reality.