Forward-looking: Apple's rumored folding phone is still a long way off, but the company might already have plans to make its version stand out from the crowd: a self-retracting display that automatically snaps shut if dropped, preventing it from being damaged.

Insider discovered Apple's new patent application, which is dated March 16. Titled Self-retracting display device and techniques for protecting screen using drop detection, the patent describes using a fall detector, or accelerometer, to determine if the device has been dropped. If it has, the foldable can fold or retract to prevent the fragile display from hitting the ground.

The patent notes that if the phone doesn't completely close before hitting the floor, even folding the display to an angle of less than 180 degrees can afford some protection as the dropped device is more likely to hit the ground on its edges rather than the easily breakable screen.

Foldable phones are certainly a lot more durable than their early iterations, especially the original Galaxy Fold, which had the potential to break if you looked at it the wrong way. But dropping any foldable while it's open is a recipe for disaster. If Apple does apply this patent to its first foldable device, it might make for a compelling feature - assuming it works properly and doesn't cause problems with everyday use.

This isn't the only recent patent we've seen relating to a foldable iPhone. An Apple patent uncovered last month proposed a foldable device layered with a flexible membrane containing touch sensors over the entire phone, allowing someone to interact anywhere across the handset without having to open it.

Rumors of a foldable iPhone go back years - as far as 2016. One of the more recent reports points to a 2025 release date. Apple could also be working on a 20-inch folding MacBook that could be unveiled sometime in 2026 or 2027.

Foldable phones are expensive - the Galaxy Z Fold 4, which we love almost everything about apart from the price, launched with a $1,800 MSRP - and Apple being Apple will likely make an already expensive form factor even pricier. Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC that the company could slap a $2,500 price tag on its first foldable. That's a big ask, even with all its potential fancy features. He also believes Apple will launch a foldable iPad next year, though not everyone agrees it'll be here so soon.