A foldable iPhone isn't the future, but a folding iPad or MacBook might be

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A foldable iPhone might be cool in concept, but the form factor is not likely to be the future of Apple's flagship product. Instead, Apple could use folding display technology to make a more useful device.

Foldable iPhone render
Foldable iPhone render


Let's be honest -- current folding devices have many issues that have yet to be fixed. Given that Apple typically waits before coming out with its versions of new and unproven technology, there's a good chance that the fad of the folding smartphone may have passed by the time Apple is ready.

However, that doesn't mean that folding screens or displays won't have a place in Apple's lineup.

The foldable iPhone?

Apple has reportedly been working on folding display technology for years now. That's evidenced by both patent work and supply chain reports indicating that the company is testing multiple prototypes with a foldable display.

Apple tests a lot of technology and files for many patents that never see the execution in the light of day. A foldable iPhone may never debut.

Analysts haven't been consistent with their predictions on when a folding iPhone may arrive. While at present, the timetable for that folding iPhone is a launch in 2025, analysts have been marching this date further in the future as deadlines previously set by them go whizzing by.

Apple also doesn't shy away from scrapping technologies with production or engineering bottlenecks that it can't overcome. While it prefers a private retirement, we expect that should a folding iPhone not ever get made, it won't have been announced. Apple likely prefers to avoid another AirPower debacle.

Supply chain stories about folded glass aren't always going to be referring to a foldable iPhone, either. Current iPhone models technically have "folded glass." When Apple debuted the iPhone X, it touted how it designed the device's display to fold or curve at the bottom. Many current foldable glass rumors likely have nothing to do with phones that fold in half.

The problems with folding phones

The fact of the matter is that folding smartphones have a number of major compromises and flaws. The Samsung Galaxy Fold had a slew of problems when it launched. Years later, it isn't all that clear that the worst problems have actually been solved.

Current folding devices have significant issues.
Current folding devices have significant issues.


There's just also the fact that the form factor isn't all that refined yet. Something like a Galaxy Fold is clunky. It carries significant compromises that don't necessarily outweigh any benefits one might get from a smartphone that folds in half.

Even devices that have not seen the same types of engineering issues -- like Microsoft's Surface Duo that lacks a fold in the screen glass or plastic itself -- have yet to gain commercial traction. The Surface Duo hasn't seen a Galaxy Fold-level of controversy, but it is meeting the same low bar for demand.

In other words, companies that have debuted foldable smartphones have not proven that they're financially worth it. Current folding devices may look cool but are still more a fad than the future.

AR & VR

Speaking of the future, think about the timeline of a folding device. Current rumors say that Apple could debut one by 2025. That's the same rumored timeline for "Apple Glass."

For those unfamiliar, "Apple Glass" is a rumored device that reportedly incorporates augmented reality features into a sleek head-worn form factor. Think of it like a pair of sunglasses with iOS built-in.

The first iterations of Apple's head-worn wearables are likely to rely on an iPhone for computing power. Down the road, however, there's a good chance that the devices will be able to stand on their own. Apple's eventual goal is to replace the iPhone completely.

An illustration of
An illustration of "Apple Glass"


Apple has had a lot of practice when it comes to augmented reality, from ARKit to the iPad Pro's LiDAR sensor. Before "Apple Glass" debuts, the iPhone maker is also likely to launch a bulkier mixed-reality headset. That'll give it an opportunity to learn and iterate.

Given that "Apple Glass" and the foldable iPhone may launch at the same time, Apple may choose to go with one or the other. And compared to a clunky folding smartphone, a pair of AR glasses actually feels much more like the future.

Other uses for folding displays

If the world ditches smartphones for smart wearables, there doesn't seem to be a place for a folding smartphone -- especially if they're as clunky as current foldable devices.

However, something like a foldable tablet could still slot into a product lineup dominated by lightweight, wearable devices. Some rumors even claim that this is the direction that Apple is currently considering.

Back in February, analysts at Display Supply Chain Consultants -- who have been an accurate source of Apple display rumors -- said that Apple isn't in a hurry to enter the foldable smartphone market. The analysts even added that an iPhone Fold may take longer than 2025 to hit the market.

However, they claimed that Apple is interested in developing a foldable all-screen notebook with a 20-inch display. The product, which could be a new category for the iPhone maker, could be used as a monitor in conjunction with a keyboard when not folded or as a traditional laptop with its own full-size keyboard when folded in half.

A foldable tablet or notebook would actually make sense in Apple's lineup, incorporating some of the best features from the company's MacBooks and iPads and blending them into a new product for productivity and creativity. That seems more useful than a clunkier iPhone.

Apple patent figures showing off a MacBook with a glass bottom portion.
Apple patent figures showing off a MacBook with a glass bottom portion.


The device could take a while before it enters the market, with DSCC suggesting that it could be 2026 or 2027.

A smaller device more akin to an iPad mini could also make sense. The iPad mini currently measures 7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches. Folded in half to split the longer dimension, it would be 3.84 inches at its narrowest, obviously the same 5.3 inches on the other axis, and 0.5 inches thick. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is 3.07 inches wide, 6.33 inches tall, and 0.3 inches thick.

While a folding iPad mini may not be a smartphone replacement, it could still find a healthy market in many commercial, enterprise, or government applications.

The situation is notably fluid, of course. There's always the chance that the "Apple Glass" may take longer to hit the market than anticipated. Even when it does launch, it will undoubtedly be a while before widespread consumer adoption of smart eyewear.

In the case of an absence of "Apple Glass," and if Apple alleviates the engineering issues, then an "iPhone Fold" could be a useful market test device for the company.

However, looking at the current situation surrounding folding devices and recent rumors about Apple holding off on its foldable iPhone plans, the form factor doesn't look like it's going to be the next breakthrough product for Apple.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    M68000M68000 Posts: 486member
    Does anybody really want to be bothered with all of the effort over time of opening and closing folding phone?   I don’t think I do.  Then,  there is the weight factor that would likely come with such device.
    kitatitmattinozseanj
  • Reply 2 of 12
    fred1fred1 Posts: 985member
     While a folding iPad mini may not be a smartphone replacement, it could still find a healthy market in many commercial, enterprise, or government applications.”

    Such as? It would be nice if you gave some examples. 
    Japheydarkvader
  • Reply 3 of 12
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 10,041member
    It’s coming!    :) It’s not coming  :( It’s coming!   :) It’s not coming!   :(  It’s coming   :) It’s not coming  :(
    edited May 4 bala1234dewme
  • Reply 4 of 12
    BeatsBeats Posts: 3,073member
    Samsung and Huawei thought the patent would be a folding iPhone so they crapped out folding iPhoneys onto the market.

    I always said it could be anything including a new invention. These iKnockoff companies just don’t have an imagination for the future.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    thttht Posts: 4,501member
    A smaller device more akin to an iPad mini could also make sense. The iPad mini currently measures 7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches. Folded in half to split the longer dimension, it would be 3.84 inches at its narrowest, obviously the same 5.3 inches on the other axis, and 0.5 inches thick. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is 3.07 inches wide, 6.33 inches tall, and 0.3 inches thick.
    ~3" wide is the practical maximum for a phone. It's been about 7 years since the 6 Plus, and longer for Android phones, and phones that are wider than about 3" have not been successful. Or have not been successful enough to drive change in the market, other than being just a niche market entry. Android phones have definitely tried 7", 8" class phones. Just ended up being too unwieldy for hands and pockets, or the increase in screen size was not enough gain to overcome the inconvenience of a bigger and heavier device.

    This all screams "small niche" as the potential mass market user gains in folding handhelds aren't worth the losses.

    An all-screen laptop, 14" to 16" half-display size, has a benefit of giving a user an 18" to 22" display when at a desk. You have to use a software keyboard and trackpad while on the go or in clamshell mode, but I'm absolutely fine with that as that's how I've been using my iPP10.5 for over 4 years nows. My primary use case for my MBP15: open with 1 cable to dock plus external display at work, open with 1 cable to external display at home, and with external keyboard and mouse in both places. It's in a backpack to and fro. I use it in a clamshell mode with its keyboard maybe 0.1% of the time.

    So, all-screen laptop gives me more screen space for my work and that's a big plus. So, the all-screen laptop or folding 20" iPad rumor is much more interesting to me. For mobile, handheld devices, seems like a niche for now. 
    mattinozseanj
  • Reply 6 of 12
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,339member
    Beats said:
    Samsung and Huawei thought the patent would be a folding iPhone so they crapped out folding iPhoneys onto the market.

    I always said it could be anything including a new invention. These iKnockoff companies just don’t have an imagination for the future.
    Would you like to put that to the test? 

    You might be in for a shock. 

    Most of the handset 'invention' (as you call it) over the last few years has come from Android vendors, and precisely the two you name. Apple has added those features later. Sometimes much later. 

    Huawei even said that the reason the Samsung folding phones don't close completely flat is because Huawei has a patent on that. 

    If that turned out to be true, where would it leave Apple? 

    Of course 'folding' is just one option. There are also scrolling phones that have been demonstrated and will come to market too. 






    ctt_zhdarkvader
  • Reply 7 of 12
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,249member
    So far using a flexible display just to make the device fold neither enables a new experience nor solves a problem that couldn’t be designed around with a flat design. For example, the watch uses a flat display when this could have been designed as a flexible band, the display technology giving significantly more real estate on the wrist. Instead we have a product which is pragmatically more durable and follows a traditional design - and this seems better. 

    However a better use of the technology would be for a device that doesn’t conform to a flat design, where the implementation limitations require a curved or flexible display, this might make more sense in a VR display that better matches the head of the wearer for example. 

    Another example here would be for accommodating different optical needs, instead of swapping optical lenses for minor focus adjustments the display itself could move and adjust its curve to provide better focus from standard lenses. 
  • Reply 8 of 12
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,389member
    M68000 said:
    Does anybody really want to be bothered with all of the effort over time of opening and closing folding phone?   I don’t think I do.  Then,  there is the weight factor that would likely come with such device.
    This is the funniest thing I have read all day.  Oh... My... GLOB, I can’t believe the time wasted unfolding my phone!!  Bwahahaha!!    (ROFL emoticon). I have to unfold my phone like a caveman in the late 1990s! 

    Ok, ok.  Breathe, now.   

    All kidding aside, folding phones end up too thick in one’s pockets and then too big in one’s hands.   Unusable in one hand, and unwieldy in two. The folding doesn’t enhance the phone-using experience.  

    Now, a folding iPad I could probably get behind.  But the added cost has to be justified by some improvement in workflow or experience.   

    Folding otherwise just becomes a gimmick that doesn’t improve the user experience.  
    edited May 5 cornchipentropys
  • Reply 9 of 12
    darkvaderdarkvader Posts: 890member
    tht said:

    An all-screen laptop, 14" to 16" half-display size, has a benefit of giving a user an 18" to 22" display when at a desk. You have to use a software keyboard and trackpad while on the go or in clamshell mode, but I'm absolutely fine with that as that's how I've been using my iPP10.5 for over 4 years nows. My primary use case for my MBP15: open with 1 cable to dock plus external display at work, open with 1 cable to external display at home, and with external keyboard and mouse in both places. It's in a backpack to and fro. I use it in a clamshell mode with its keyboard maybe 0.1% of the time.

    So, all-screen laptop gives me more screen space for my work and that's a big plus. So, the all-screen laptop or folding 20" iPad rumor is much more interesting to me. For mobile, handheld devices, seems like a niche for now. 

    So there's a case for that, I suppose.

    I don't use my laptops at a desk 99% of the time.  I'm not at a desk now, I rarely work at a desk, and when I do I've got a 27" iMac with 27" and 24" displays attached, a Windoze box that also has 3 screens, and a Mac mini with a 50" screen.  At my other desk I've got the console for the server rack, with a couple more screens.  And most of the time I remote into all of those boxes from a laptop while I'm sitting somewhere comfy, or from onsite at a client if I actually have to physically be there, which happens less and less these days.

    An all-screen laptop would be incredibly annoying for me.  It's impossible to touch type on a screen.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    clemynxclemynx Posts: 1,534member
    Could we stop using that ridiculous name Apple Glass which will never be used by Apple? 

    And why does the AR concept have different images for each eye? And why is it written “15 minutes 1.5 kg”? :)
  • Reply 11 of 12
    Back in 2010, many thought the iPad name was horrible and it would be DOA because people would be reminded of a women’s hygiene product.  The Apple insider forum visitors were hopeful at the time that it would be called the iSlate.  Just because you don’t think it’s a good name doesn’t mean it won’t be good, successful, that others don’t like it, or become ubiquitous (calling tissues Kleenex regardless of brand, or likewise calling a tablet an iPad).

    if Apple calls it Apple Glass, so be it.  It’s currently a somewhat useful name to reference an unannounced rumored product that has no name a consumer can call it.  When it’s used, we all know what it’s referring to.  However, would it be more appropriate to put it in quotes: “Apple Glass”? Maybe.  That’s more cumbersome, however.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 1,073member
    I finally saw a folding Samsung in person when a friend showed it to me. The screen looked fine, and he seemed to enjoy flipping it open, as a previous poster mentioned, like the 90’s. I didn’t examine it in hand, but I’ll keep tabs with him to see how durable it is over time. 
    That said, it was pretty thick when folded, about as thick as a good sized wallet. Also, it had no case, which for me would not work. I’m sure there are cases for them, but the hinge would not be covered. I’m sure sand and grit would get into the hinge if I had the thing at work. 
    edited May 6
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