Apple hasn't given up on a foldable iPhone, it just doesn't need one

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Apple hasn't given up on a foldable iPhone, it just doesn't need one
Apple has allegedly placed its foldable iPhone project on ice after the pliable panels it tested didn't manage to pass its display department muster. This claim from one typically credible leakster from the vast confines of the Chinese tech blogosphere maintains that Apple took some bendy handsets to test and reverse engineer them, as well as examine foldable display samples sent to it by screen makers.

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So far so good, Korean media recently reported that Apple has indeed taken delivery of foldable display samples from the likes of Samsung, LG, or BOE, basically all the usual suspects that make such panels. One of the devices with foldable displays that Apple examined allegedly failed within a few days, though the source doesn't clarify if the hinge broke or if it developed screen artifacts.

That's not the whole reason for the rumored freezing of the foldable iPhone project, though, as Apple's display department reportedly didn't find the overall foldable panel quality up to its usual snuff. That's not hard to imagine, either, as Apple has been known to be very demanding when it comes to panel characteristics, durability, and pricing, often sending its display suppliers in a tizzy.

Foldable phones have excellent displays

Who knew?

The whole episode or the reading of it are rather nonsensical, though. We've been testing foldable phone displays for a good while now and, while the first editions had their set of durability and display specs challenges, now their screens are on par, and sometimes even better than those of their brethren without a hinge. Take the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 or the OnePlus Open displays, for example. 

They are extremely bright, with high dynamic refresh rates and top HDR certifications. In short, they look great no matter how you slice it or unfurl it. In fact, the specs gap between modern devices with foldable displays and with rigid ones has been all but erased.

As you can see, the foldables here meet or exceed the display quality benchmarks of both 2023 and 2024 flagships, including those with 4500 advertised brightness, or Apple and Samsung's vaunted flagship phone OLED displays.

Apple doesn't need foldable iPhone but it may launch a foldable iPad

Why fold?

According to today's fresh TrendForce report, foldable phone shipments hit about 16 million units last year, up 25% since 2022, but still only commanding 1.4% of the market. While at one point foldables were the fastest growing segment with numerous Chinese companies releasing their first or second try at a foldable, growth is expected to be more tepid this year, with bendy handset shipments going up 11% to 17.7 million units. As per the TrendForce analysts, "this growth rate remains below market expectations, with the segment’s share predicted to exceed 2% only by 2025."

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Faster market penetration rates would come when all the foldable phone drawbacks in the mind of consumers - chiefly price and footprint - are addressed. Chinese makers like Oppo or OnePlus already showed that foldable phones can be thin, light, affordable and with good cameras, too. Samsung has reportedly taken notice, trying to catch up to them with a thinner, cheaper Galaxy Z Fold 6, but it remains to be seen if all those advancements will make foldables the preferred choice with any meaningful market share rates in the next few years.

To hinge or not to hinge

All the brouhaha how foldable phone displays are not up to Apple's high standards and this may have paused the development of the proverbial bendy iPhone misses the mark that Apple simply doesn't need one. Its bread-and-butter iPhone franchise is selling like hot cakes and is something Apple wouldn't dilute or cannibalize willy-nilly without a compelling reason. 

Putting a hinge in the middle of an iPhone is just not such a reason. Yes, a hinge, since the iPhone still comes with a flexible display with a plastic substrate like they all do now. The sheer act of folding and unfurling it has to add value to the iPhone user and that's what Apple is likely mulling rather than getting scared by the foldable panel tests of its display department.

Hence the reports that Apple will try to revive its ailing iPad and especially iPad mini sales, or even do a Mac with foldable display first before it deems a foldable iPhone necessary at all. 

When it does, foldables should've already proven popular with users and suppliers should be able to provide quality components on the cheap and plentiful. That's how Apple typically rolls when it comes to going crazy with drastic iPhone hardware or form factor upgrades.

Until then, a foldable iPhone would be prohibitively expensive without any really compelling use case scenarios. Just like the Vision Pro gear whose team Apple is now reportedly redirecting towards the development of its foldables.

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