• Foldable smartphones aren't as popular as they were when they were first announced
  • This is likely due to expensive prices and problems with displays and hinges
  • A new patent reveals Apple is working on a device with a rollable, not foldable, display

Foldable smartphones shook the mobile world in 2019 with their impressive features. Devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Fold and Huawei's Mate X put tablet-sized screens inside people's pockets. Motorola's Razr reboot and Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip, on the other hand, showed how convenient it would be if a full-sized smartphone can be folded to a size smaller than the palm of a hand.

Despite the advancements in the display technologies used on these devices, it's a fact that they're not perfect. The Galaxy Fold had a humiliating start, the Razr was delayed and had problems with the hinge, the Galaxy Z Flip had a “glass” screen that was easy to scratch like plastic. The Mate X was, well, very expensive.

These devices caught the public's attention in 2019. In 2020, however, interest for them seemed to have declined, CNet noted. Tech companies have to do better than introduce foldable displays that suffer from creases. Expandable displays are good, but they should be durable enough to make them worth the cost of buying them.

Apple has a solution for that. A new patent published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reveals that the Cupertino tech giant is looking into creating devices that have rollable displays. That's right – the device will have a display that can be extended by pulling it like a scroll. CNet calls this a “scrollable display.”

The Apple patent, titled “Electronic device with flexible display structures,” describes the flexible screen as being attached to several rollers that allow it to be safely “deployed” or extended for use, and safely stored when not in use. The flexible display is viewable before and after it is deployed via a flexible transparent housing window.

Apple plans to strengthen the display and prevent it from having wrinkles using “bistable support members” (i.e. tape) and magnets. These will stretch the display so that it will be as rigid as possible while allowing it to roll out for use or roll in to the device for storage.

The patent didn't specifically say that the new technology is for a future iPhone. It did say, however, that “In general, device ... may have any suitable size,” measuring “1-100 cm, 10-1000 cm, more than 1000 cm, less than 500 cm, less than 25 cm, less than 5 cm, less than 1 cm, or other suitable dimensions.” These dimensions indicate that it could be used for iPhones, iPads and more.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Samsung Galaxy Z Flip in Mirror Purple. Photo: Samsung