A patent application showed a foldable iPhone could close itself to protect the screen if dropped.
A sensor would trigger a mechanism aimed at preventing damage to the screen.
Apple has not confirmed any plans to start producing a foldable iPhone.
Apple may still be working on a foldable version of iPhone, which was first reported way back in 2016.
A new patent application reviewed by Insider, dated March 16, shows that the tech giant is looking for ways to prevent serious damage to its screen if the device is dropped.
The application, "Self-retracting display device and techniques for protecting screen using drop detection," suggests that a device would include a fall detector, or "accelerometer." It would trigger a release mechanism to "automatically retract the foldable display."
However, it may not have time to close completely if the device is to close to a surface or the ground.
The patent application states that "even folding the display to an angle less [than] 180 degrees can afford some protection because the mobile device can strike edges of the mobile device instead of the display itself."
What do we know about Apple's foldable iPhone?
Speculation about a foldable iPhone has circulated online for several years without any confirmation from Apple.
It has filed various patent applications that show what a device could look like. One design had a protrusion near the top of the phone so that the user could access components like the camera without unfolding it.
Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC last October that a foldable iPhone would probably sell for about $2,500. That's almost $1,000 more than the most expensive iPhone, the 14 Pro Max, which costs up to $1,599.
Patent applications do not mean that Apple has any plans to start making a foldable iPhone but indicate the company is still mulling the idea.
Folding phones remain a tiny fraction of the global smartphone market, with just over 14 million sold last year, according to figures from Canalys. About 12 million were Samsung Galaxy models.
Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider made outside normal working hours.
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