Apple’s patent for a buttonless foldable device sounds wild

I know I know; we’ve been reporting rumors of a foldable iPhone pretty much since Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s first smartphone back in 2007. But this time, there’s some exciting evidence to back it up—a new patent sounds like it could lead to a radical change in the design of phones and other devices.

Samsung has mocked Apple for years for its lateness in developing a foldable phone, as if going back to clamshell devices is an inevitable progression. This patent application, filed by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, shows that Apple is at least exploring the option — and that it’s still waging war on buttons (for Apple’s current lineup, see the best iPhone 14 prices).

The new patent (opens in a new tab), describes the concept of electronic devices, including foldable devices, with full-surface touch-sensitive control areas. Every surface can be a touch input, including the back and side walls.

An image from Apple’s patent application shows a foldable device (Image credit: Apple)

The application notes that “Collecting touch input from a user and displaying images to a user efficiently can be challenging. For example, when a user provides touch input to a touchscreen, the user’s hand may block images”. Apple’s potential solution is more places for touch input to control cameras, volume, brightness, for example. The concept can be used on a variety of devices, but the example images in the application look the most like phones, and that’s where the concept makes the most sense.

Patent application for foldable iPhone

(Image credit: Apple)

Touch sensor layers can be “overlapped” by a device’s outer glass panels on each side, including curved sidewalls. The application also mentions “wrapping a screen around some or all of the device.” Touch sensors on the back of a device may sound strange, but Apple suggests they could have “gaming applications.”

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