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Now That Google Has the Pixel Fold, Where's Apple's Foldable iPhone?

Commentary: Here’s why I think Apple is holding out.

Posted By Kimbo Online Store

Google’s Pixel Fold is shipping to customers. But why haven’t we seen an iPhone Fold yet?

Justin Reynoso/CNET

The release of foldable phones is on the rise in 2023. The Motorola Razr Plus was released, demonstrating that (at least in the US) the third time really is the charm. The $1,799 Google Pixel Fold is now available for purchase. The Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 will likely be shown off during the Unpacked event at the end of the month, according to Samsung’s announcement.

Apple is the only significant US phone manufacturer without a foldable device, according to OnePlus’ teaser that it will release a foldable later this year. Additionally, Huawei and Xiaomi also offer foldable phones outside of the US.

The obvious question that remains is: Where is Apple’s foldable iPhone?

Apple doesn't comment on future products

The first thing to remember is that Apple waits until a product is ready to reveal it. The AirPower wireless charging pad was available, okay. But aside from that, Apple won’t confirm reports or let us know it’s developing a foldable iPhone.

Next, Apple frequently presents its products as a fix for a problem, emphasizing their superior craftsmanship and creativity.

The Galaxy Z Fold appears to be more of a “look at this tech wizardry, what can we do with it?!” statement than an actual solution to a problem. Even while it is brilliant, the cool factor sacrifices things like battery life, ergonomics, software experience, and affordability that we come to expect from standard phones. Although the Galaxy Z Flip solves the portability issue, it has some of the same shortcomings as the Galaxy Fold, particularly in terms of battery life and camera quality.

To be fair, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 advanced much by embracing its enormous main screen and including Samsung’s S Pen stylus compatibility. The improved Flex Mode for apps on the Z Fold 4 appears to be the deciding factor, making the Fold more practical than just fashionable.

What issue would be resolved if Apple released a foldable iPhone? Could it be an iPhone Flip that offers you a large screen while remaining portable, so replacing the iPhone 13 Mini? Or would it be an iPhone Fold, which would have a closed size more akin to the iPhone 13 Pro Max and function more like an iPad Mini that can be folded in half? Or will we witness a brand-new design? How about an iPhone Roll, where the display rolls out like a slatted window shade? Rumors begin to circulate at this point.


Why does Apple need a foldable iPhone? What problem does it solve?

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

iPhone Fold rumors

According to a Bloomberg article from January 2021, Mark Gurman, Apple “has begun early work on an iPhone with a foldable screen, a potential rival to similar devices from Samsung.”

Then, in May of that same year, MacRumors quoted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo as saying, “Apple will likely launch a foldable iPhone with an 8-inch QHD Plus flexible OLED display in 2023.” In a tweet from April of last year, he updated his prediction, speculating that it would take until 2025 before Apple releases a product with a foldable screen. Noting that Kuo’s tweet was posted on April 1, it is possible that it was an April Fools’ joke.

With regard to Apple speculations, Gurman and Kuo both have a strong track record. Therefore, if these rumors are true, a foldable iPhone will be available by 2025. It will fold in half and be around the size of an iPad Mini. Story over. But pause.

How to make a foldable iPhone

Apple needs to find out how to create a foldable iPhone before it can really produce one. According to the research firm Omdia, 11.5 million foldable phones will be shipped in 2021. Every year, Apple sells millions of iPhones. Therefore, if Apple creates a foldable iPhone, it must be certain that it can produce the devices with the same quality and in a sufficient number to satisfy demand. When Apple makes a significant upgrade to its hardware, like the larger screen on the 2014 iPhone 6 Plus, those versions are frequently hard to obtain at first because they sell out so rapidly. As we seen with the introduction of the iPhone 12 Mini and 12 Pro Max, they occasionally have a delayed release date.

The physical complexity must also be taken into account. Foldable phones feature a lot of mechanical components that could break or wear out, like the layers underneath the folding screen and the hinge portions that keep dust out. In reality, the first Galaxy Fold had numerous display and hinge issues when review samples were examined by journalists. Of course, that was a long time ago, and Samsung has now resolved those problems. But it demonstrates what can occur with first-generation products.

If Apple is developing a foldable iPhone, it will probably reinvent its design to reduce the number of components and mechanisms used, which should lessen the likelihood that the phones would malfunction because something breaks. The Cupertino business has a strong history in this field.

Apple removed the home button from the iPhone 7 in order to reduce the number of mechanical components that could malfunction. And if you’ve ever used or owned a MacBook, you know Apple is at the top of its game in terms of dependability and hinge design. Apple also offers AppleCare Plus, a program for support and repairs that comes with a global infrastructure and may allay worries about issues or unintentional harm.

Apple’s iPad OS has been split from iOS, partly to accommodate even bigger screens like this second monitor in the iPad OS 16 beta.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

iOS and iPadOS would need to be revamped

The software is another factor. The most unappreciated feature of the Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold has to be One UI, Samsung’s term for their version of Android. All the functions that we currently expect from phones would have to be combined with brand-new features that make use of foldable screens in these new designs. They would also need to complete all of these tasks without any errors or hiccups. Additionally, I would anticipate even improved Android support for foldables if Google does indeed introduce the Pixel Fold.

For instance, the Flex Mode on Galaxy phones has been available for quite some time. In essence, the software moves an app to the top half of the screen while offering functionality at the bottom when the Fold or Flip is folded into an L-shape, similar to a little laptop. It sounds exciting and full of potential, right?

For instance, the Flex Mode on Galaxy phones has been available for quite some time. In essence, the software moves an app to the top half of the screen while offering functionality at the bottom when the Fold or Flip is folded into an L-shape, similar to a little laptop. It sounds exciting and full of potential, right?

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 in Flex mode.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even more software designed for foldable phones is something I’d like to see. And I anticipate Apple will experience similar difficulties as Samsung, particularly when adjusting iOS and iPadOS.

Since Apple started developing additional iPad-specific features that wouldn’t make sense on an iPhone, iOS and iPadOS have become increasingly dissimilar. A merger of the two operating systems would be necessary to create a foldable iPhone, particularly one designed like the Galaxy Z Fold 4. The alternative is for Apple to create a new software platform that can switch between tablet and phone modes.

How much would you pay for a foldable iPhone?

Foldable phones are not inexpensive. Starting at $1,800 for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and $1,000 for the Galaxy Z Flip 4. It also comes as no surprise that Apple items are already more expensive than average. What would the pricing be for an iPhone 14 Pro that folds in half if it already costs $1,000?

Apple would need to develop a problem-solving design, scale production without compromising quality, and develop hardware and software that take full advantage of the foldable build in order for a foldable iPhone to succeed. Additionally, the cost would need to be premium—but not excessively so.

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