Apple Inc. (AAPL) has filed an application with the U.S. Patent & Trade Office for a bendable electronic device with a flexible display, sparking speculation that the tech giant might be working on a foldable iPhone to compete with Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. (SSNLF).

The application states that Apple is keen to use the technology on any kind of electronic device with a display, such as “a laptop computer, a tablet computer, a cellular telephone, a wristwatch, or other electronic device.” The patent request also mentions a screen with a touch sensor, featuring a flexible, easy to bend optically clear adhesive. Rather than just bending and folding, the new technology will potentially be used as a two-sided display, indicating that it will be far more sophisticated than the flip phones that shot to fame decades ago.

News that Apple is exploring ways to introduce foldable technology to its product arsenal came amid growing speculation that rival smartphone makers are plotting similar moves. Chinese telecommunications company ZTE recently launched a foldable phone and industry heavyweights Samsung and Finland's Nokia Inc. (NOK) are reportedly keen to follow suit.

Nokia received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in November for a smartphone that can be folded and looks similar to a pocket mirror, while Samsung is rumored to be considering the release as early as next year of a Galaxy X handset that folds out into a full-size tablet. Samsung has reportedly been experimenting with foldable smartphones since 2011, but has so far refrained from taking the ideas to the production stage due to various manufacturing issues. (See also: Samsung Targets 2018 for Foldable Smartphone.)

Foldable phone enthusiasts will now be hoping that Apple launches a rival product. The fact that the iPhone maker filed the patent suggests it has serious intentions to develop the necessary technology to make it work, although it is still too early to ascertain whether an Apple branded foldable smartphone will ever make its way to consumers.

Companies regularly file technology patents that fail to feature in released products. In fact, Apple has already successfully won patents for bendable phones with flexible displays in the past. (See also: Why Apple Could Reach $1 Trillion Next Year.)

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