Forward-looking: Foldable phones have become a smartphone concept trend, but real world usability is still unproven territory. Apple has already filed patents for its own foldable iPhones, but Apple typically only releases products a year or two after other companies have already proven success is possible.

It seems as though every major OEM is developing their own foldable smartphone, and Apple is not about to ignore the latest trend. Following the little bending issue with the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple is exploring the possibility of truly foldable phones. Patent drawings reveal a number of folding designs that Apple may or may not ever end up using, but that has not stopped artists from giving us their visions of what a foldable iPhone may look like in the future.

There are several drawings showing a clam shell folding device making use of a flexible display. A side view shows that the screen cold be placed on the inside or outside of the fold. The hinge system pictured indicates that the phone could potentially fold both directions.

In addition to the commonly understood bifold design, there is also a figure displaying a three-fold iPhone. Instead of a single central hinge, there are two spaced evenly dividing the phone into three equal parts. This design relatively similar to Xiaomi's concept, but is a vertically folding instead of horizontal and can be folded several different ways thanks to the hinge design.

Additional patent drawings include variants without visible hinges and instead show a thin section made of a flexible material. If we are ever going to see a foldable phone from Apple, chances are good that minimalist design will be a prime focus.

Since the patent focuses solely on physical design considerations, there is no indication as to what any of the electronics contained in future iPhones will be. There are no references to a triple camera setup or to a switch to USB-C for 2020.

Image Credit: iPhone concept render by LetsGoDigital