Apple's iPhone glass supplier says foldable phones should be ready in a few years

Key Points
  • Apple's iPhone glass supplier Corning is testing flexible glass as Samsung and Huawei roll out their first foldable phones.
  • So far, the foldable phones that will soon be available rely on plastic-based displays and cost around $2,000.
  • Corning's testing hints Apple could have its eye on a foldable iPhone model with a more durable display than what competitors have shown so far.
Huawei's Mate X
Benjamin Hall | CNBC

Apple's iPhone glass supplier Corning is working on a new flexible product as competitors roll out foldable phones using plastic, Wired reported. Corning confirmed to CNBC it's working on the flexible glass product.

The move hints at possible ambitions at Apple to create a foldable phone that's more durable than the plastic polymer-based models recently announced by Samsung and Huawei. Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in March 2018 a foldable iPhone could come as early as 2020 for Apple, saying the company was already working with its Asian partners on the device.

So far, the foldable phone market is untested and expensive, with Samsung's Galaxy Fold debuting at $1,980 and Huawei's Mate X debuting around $2,600. But phone makers are still racing to get their own versions on display, with Motorola reportedly planning to bring back the iconic Razr as a foldable device, The Wall Street Journal reported.

But even those testing plastic-based screens acknowledge the inherent problems in the material, despite being more flexible than glass.

Foldable smartphones have arrived

"The fact that you're touching [that kind of display] with your nails is scratching it. It has a short life right away; it starts dying the day you unpack it," Motorola VP of Global Product Dan Dery said in an interview with Engadget.

Apple already pledged $200 million in funding for Corning in May 2017 to support research and development, capital equipment and glass processing. The investment suggests Apple wants future phones, including foldable ones, to have displays just as durable as Corning's current Gorilla Glass used on the iPhone.

Corning is working on a 0.1 millimeter-thick flexible glass that can fold to a 5 millimeter radius, Wired reported Sunday. The trickiest part is getting the glass to bend without compromising its toughness. John Bayne, who heads Corning's Gorilla Glass unit, told Wired he expects foldable glass in a few years.

Read the full report at Wired.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

Watch: A rare look inside the factory that makes iPhone's Gorilla Glass

A rare look inside the factory that makes iPhone's Gorilla Glass