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Apple has once again been granted a new patent, this time for a foldable device that features a clamshell design and touch-sensitive areas on the sides that serve as virtual buttons. The patent, which was filed in April 2021, explores ideas for “Electronic Devices With Display and Touch Sensor Structures” and envisions how parts of a device could work as input surfaces to augment the display or for use when the display is folded up.
The patent describes how display layers and touch sensor layers could be “overlapped” in a device’s outer panels, and how the touch sensors could go under a glass layer along the front, bottom, and “curved sidewalls” of a device, suggesting the potential for touch input across the entire outer chassis of a clamshell-style enclosure.
The patent also explores the idea of “wrapping a display around some or all of the device”, where the curved sidewalls would house touch-sensitive layers, allowing them to work as camera controls, volume sliders, and other functions.
This latest patent is fueling fresh speculation that Apple’s first foldable device is getting nearer to launch. The company has been working on foldable display technology for some years now, filing multiple foldable-related patents.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said last year that Apple is actively testing a foldable display, although he believes Apple’s first foldable device may be a hybrid iPhone and iPad, or simply a foldable iPad. More recently, Kuo said that Apple is preparing to launch a foldable iPad with a carbon fiber kickstand in 2024.
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Display analyst Ross Young said last year that Apple’s long-rumored foldable iPhone has been delayed until 2025. The news of the delay reportedly came after discussions with supply chain sources, suggesting that Apple has been conducting due diligence to ascertain the viability of bringing such a product to market anytime soon.
The latest patent gives us a glimpse into the potential design of Apple’s forthcoming foldable device. The touch-sensitive areas on the sides of the device could be a game-changer for the user experience, making it easier and more intuitive to interact with the device. It remains to be seen whether this will be the design that Apple goes with for its first foldable device, but it’s clear that the company is actively working on this technology and is inching closer to a launch.