Apple is exploring plans for a foldable version of the iPhone, according to a patent filed in the US.
The design features an innovative hinge mechanism that would prevent creasing issues similar devices have suffered from.
Movable flaps would prevent unsightly marks by keeping the device in a semi-curved state when shut.
Huawei, Samsung and Lenovo were among those to release foldable devices in 2019, to varying levels of success.
“Apple has a long history of assessing technology and only jumping into the market when it feels a particular technology is mature enough or that it can use it in a way that makes a meaningful difference to its products,” said analyst Ben Wood.
“There is little doubt Apple has probably been assessing flexible displays for years behind closed door and it comes as no surprise it is trying to do something different.”
It marks the latest in a series of patent filings by Apple over the past five years related to foldable devices.
The hinge mechanism would “ensure adequate separation between the first and second portions when the housing is bent”.
The Motorola Razr was among the first foldable devices to avoid the pitfalls of creasing, with its innovative design that pulls the display at each of its corners like a piece of cloth.
However, reviews have complained that smartphone “creaks” when bent.
And Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the first of its kind to hit the market, was struck by host of teething problems last year.
Major defects with the foldable device, including broken screens and issues with a removable protective layer, proved a source of embarrassment for Samsung, which has seen declining smartphone sales and faces growing competition from rivals, including China’s Huawei.
Technology website Ars Technica called the Galaxy Fold a “master class” in how not to make a folding phone.
“Rather than a viable product, right now the Fold feels more like a publicly available prototype device that demonstrates an experimental new form factor,” the site said in its review.
And Huawei’s Mate X has not fared much better with critics, with many complaining about creasing and interface issues.
Samsung revealed in January the Galaxy Fold had sold about 400,000 units since September, below the company’s initial goal of more than 500,000.
And recent leaks suggest the company is preparing to unveil a new folding phone next Tuesday.
It first teased a flip-phone in October but has yet to publicly commit to the idea.
Other companies are expected to unveil folding devices at Mobile World Congress next week.