LG Electronics successfully patented a tri-fold smartphone design with the World Intellectual Property Organization, having had its application approved last November. The concept itself is not a recent invention as LG originally submitted the patent for inspection in December of 2014, with the approval process taking nearly three full years to be completed despite no rejections being issued by WIPO. The device depicted in the sketches seen in the gallery below consists of three parts, all of which appear to be paper-thin, capable of folding outward like a leaflet. The design still isn't of the traditional tri-fold variety as LG envisioned a smartphone that can form a Z shape while being folded.
Another variant of the invention described as part of the same patent has two screens and appears to be somewhat similar to the ZTE Axon M, with the major differences being its overall thinness and the fact that the hinges connecting the two screens don't break them apart and can only be seen from the back. The three-display concept has also been broken into several versions, with one of them having the main screen set as the middle one and equipping it with a physical home button, whereas the alternative has the right display as the primary module, allowing the other two to be pulled from underneath it. When unfolded, the three screens can either be used for multitasking or form a single large display, LG's patent reads. As such, the handset would essentially be usable as a tablet, albeit one with an extremely elongated aspect ratio. All three screens have been described as touch-enabled but with the patent being of the design variety, no potential hardware configurations have been provided by the company so it's presently unclear whether LG envisioned a device whose core internals run beneath one, two, or all three screens.
While the primary functions of the invention would be that of a smartphone, the South Korean tech giant also told WIPO a similar concept could be applied to laptop design. The consumer electronics industry as a whole has been investing in researching foldable handsets for over half a decade now but no such offering has yet been commercialized, with ZTE's Axon M being more of a hinge-reliant than a truly bendable smartphone. Samsung is understood to be the closest to releasing a "real" foldable mobile device and may start mass-producing it as early as this year.