Apple has just been granted a patent for a clever new hinge that can be used with foldable display, and could be perfect for the folding iPhone/iPad hybrid that's rumoured to be in development.
Spotted by Patently Apple (opens in new tab), the patent doesn't just relate to flexible displays, but could be used in other Apple products with hinges – some of the diagrams describe MacBook-like devices, while others are more like the Magic Keyboard used on the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) and iPad Air (2020).
The patent is for a hinge that can control its resistance levels, using electrical technology built into the hinge. So, the hinge could potentially stiffen itself when the folding iPhone is in fully closed or open, say, so it's much harder to accidentally shift it.
But when it detects the force of a hand trying to open or close it, it could then relax and become easy to shift. It could also help a laptop to stay open firmly at whatever angle you want it to be.
The two could even be combined – a future MacBook could be made from a flexible screen, and potentially be totally open as a large tablet, or you could partly fold it into a traditional laptop mode. This hinge could help it to stay steady in that case.
Apple's applications in the patent are really wide-ranging, and Patently Apple notes that it includes operation using all kinds of sensors – everything from sensors to detect rotational force (which would make total sense, since maybe that's how it works out if you're trying to open the hinge) to facial identification sensor (which could mean it tries to stay closed if you don't pass the Face ID test!).
Or maybe Apple won't do anything with this patent at all – many don't do anything after all. But it's another hint at how actively Apple has been working on solving some of the production issues around flexible screens. We don't expect to see a folding iPhone alongside the iPhone 13, but it could be close. The Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 really is impressive, after all – perhaps an Apple folder could finally help the technology crack our list of the best phones.