Apple's folding phone patent is a problem Samsung should have solved years ago

Galaxy Crease
Galaxy Crease (Image credit: Android Central)

Apple is probably never going to make a folding iPhone that magically turns into an iPad Mini when you open it up. It doesn't need to, because it understands the value of proper tablet apps and can actually sell a few tablets each year because of it.

Samsung, on the other hand, was in the perfect position to make a folding phone. It makes what are arguably the best Android phones you can buy, with the best displays, and makes the best Android tablet you can buy, too. But since nobody is buying Android tablets and Google stopped caring about them, Samsung did the next best thing — built a phone that folds out into a tablet for those times you want to need it to.

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A creased display can ruin any device.

We know that Samsung is planning on making more of them. And it should, because working at an idea until it gets it perfect is another thing Samsung does really well. But eventually, there's an idea it needs to steal from Apple — how to build a device with a single folding display that doesn't have an ugly, nasty crease down the center.

Why that wasn't already figured out baffles my mind. It's something a junior mechanical engineer should be able to figure out and it seems to have been ignored. Let me quote myself for a moment:

I have touched a lot of thin, flexible, rigid plastic sheeting. Yes, flexible and rigid at the same time. The materials used have to be flexible enough to fold but rigid enough to support the OLED sheet and digitizer on both sides and at the edges. That means it has to have a minimum bend radius that if passed, will form a crease. You can also decrease that radius if you "overbend" when folding flat and pop the crease out, but the phone isn't designed to do that.

The important thing there is "minimum bend radius, that if passed will form a crease" because that's how anything you can bend works. Samsung knows this. I know Samsung knows this because even I know it and I am a very bad at mechanical engineering based on the few times I'd had to dabble with it in the field.

And we now know that Apple knows about a minimum bending radius, too, because it has filed for a patent that would prevent a crease from forming in a folding display.

Apple Foldable Display Patent

Source: Apple Insider (Image credit: Source: Apple Insider)

An electronic device may have a flexible display that overlaps an axis. The display may be supported by a housing. The housing may have first and second portions that rotate relative to each other about the axis. The housing may be placed in an unfolded configuration to support the display in a planar state. The housing may also be placed in a folded configuration by rotating the first and second portions relative to each other. A hinge mechanism may be used to ensure adequate separation between the first and second portions when the housing is bent. Movable flaps may be retracted when the housing is bent to create room for a bent portion of the display.A hinge mechanism may be used to ensure adequate separation between first and second portions of the housing when the housing is bent. This ensures that the flexible display can maintain a desired minimum bend radius in the vicinity of the bend axis. The hinge mechanism may be based on a rack-and-gear arrangement or other arrangement that maintains the first and second housing portions at a desired distance from each other.With another arrangement, the housing may have movable flaps that extend parallel to the bend axis. The movable flaps may be placed in a planar configuration to support the display when the housing is in its unbent state. The movable flaps may be retracted when the housing is placed in its bent state. This creates room for a bent portion of the display along the bend axis.

This is a lot of words about something so ugly that Apple would never build it. Movable flaps? That retract? iFlaps? Yeah, no, but it does address the most important thing if you don't want a crease: that pesky minimum bending radius.

A phone that folds built this way would have a large gap at the hinge when in the closed position no matter how movable any flaps might be, but that bulbous bend of the display means there won't be a crease. It's a preliminary design for something that a company could build once it figured out how to do it without flaps, because even Apple knows that a crease down the middle of your screen sucks.

Folding displays are here to stay. The Galaxy Fold may not have been a runaway success at the retail level, but it did show the amount of interest out there for a phone that turns into a tablet. Samsung knows that. Huawei knows that. Motorola knows that. Hell, even Pablo Escobar's little brother knows that. In the very near future, you will probably have a phone with a folding screen.

Samsung will get everything sorted and build the best folding phone you can buy that doesn't have a perma-crease, too.

And I think Samsung will be able to figure out a way to leave enough of a gap at the bend point without any movable flaps or other crazy ideas to do it without a crease down the middle. Maybe two waterfall displays that touch at the center or a phone that's big and chunky and has a 9,000 mAh battery to fill the space. Something will happen and when it does we'll all love it. And then Apple can copy it to make a folding iPhone.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.