The foldable iPhone is a pipe dream: here’s why Apple probably won’t do it

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The foldable iPhone is a pipe dream: here’s why Apple probably won’t do it
A bold statement, isn’t it? Apple will never make anything foldable. Unlike Samsung, Apple is never rushing when it comes to new hardware advancements. The Cupertino company has always been that cool, laid back kid who wants to see if something sticks before it ‘reinvents’ it, and doesn’t like to bet chaotically.

But is that the case with foldable devices too, or is Apple waiting for something better? Well, now that we’ve had foldable phones for years, it seems like the American tech giant’s turn should come soon. Samsung has already dedicated itself to expanding this still niche market. Every year the Korean brand makes a big noise about its Z Fold and Z Flip phones.

Still, these haven’t sold nearly as much as the Galaxy S series, let alone the iPhone. Mid-range phones are still Samsung’s strongest sellers, and Apple rules the higher-end smartphone market by quite a margin.

These results should be concerning to Samsung, and probably reassuring to Apple that the foldable way might not be the way to go. But why is that, and why do I think Apple will probably never release such a device?

Apple is rarely a follower

Ever since Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007, Apple has taken over a market in which it had no previous experience at all. Some call this success the stuff of dreams for every tech company there is. And those people are probably right.

Established phone makers like LG, HTC, and BlackBerry have come and gone, but Apple blasts through every challenge it faces in this ever-changing market. Actually, the Cupertino company was one of the reasons these ex-phone makers exited the market with almost no dignity left.

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And what about brands that are still around, like Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung? Well, Apple is outselling the first two by quite a lot, and it is probably only a matter of time until it surpasses Samsung too and truly establishes itself as the number one phone maker.

Even with all of the cool innovations many Android-running phones introduced over the years, almost none stuck around. We saw a bunch of stuff, from monochrome cameras to semi-modular or 3D-enabled phones, and almost none of it was a success. The same can’t be said about Apple though. It might often be late in the game, but when it decides to set a new standard, it does so very successfully, and the others are quick to follow.

A few examples of Apple setting trends are the ditching of the headphone jack, the implementation of the fingerprint scanner, removing chargers from the packaging, and countless more small changes that gradually set the current smartphone model.

Sadly, we can expect that ditching physical SIM cards for eSIM will be another one of these Apple-set trends that will be followed religiously by its main competitors in the smartphone business.

Apple’s smartphone lineup is unthreatened

The truth is that no matter how many improvements the Galaxy phones see each year, the iPhone’s sales keep on going in only one direction, which is up. For example, the iPhone 13 is the most popular phone worldwide, with 5.5% of market share

The next three best sold phones are also iPhones. Samsung’s only flagship device on that list is the Galaxy S22 Ultra with 1.5% share at fifth place, and that's in its strongest-selling period of the year during the initial release. Apple sales have been slowly, but surely rising, with a year-on-year increase of 5%.

Still, we have to admit Samsung’s S22 series did better than before, but that’s not a big win, as the company’s flagship phones saw a steady decline in units shipped between their S10 and S21 generations. In the same period of time, the iPhone saw its biggest launches ever.

But why is that? Considering Apple is mostly criticized by Samsung for lacking innovation and new technology implementations, shouldn’t the roles in a fair world be reversed?

Well, it is not that simple. Here are the three main strengths I think Apple has over Samsung:

  • Much stronger brand image because of a good reputation
  • An excellent marketing strategy
  • A long history of very well-built, unproblematic smartphones and a real software ecosystem

I don’t think we need to talk about why Apple’s marketing strategy is probably the best there is. You probably know that this company knows best how to position itself and its products, how to advertise them, and how to turn a flaw into a key selling point (just look at the iPhone 14 Pro’s ‘Dynamic Island’).

But its brand image is way stronger than Samsung’s. This is due to its reputation for well-built devices that ‘just work’. And the thing is, they do work. The iPhone tends to be kept by users for longer than any Android phone. That’s because it often stays faster and definitely more up-to-date as time goes on. I don’t think I have to count all the reasons for that. Just remember that designing both your own hardware and software is key.

The iPhone can’t be threatened by any new shiny and innovative Samsung phone because that often comes along with certain compromises in various departments. See, edgy design choices often look cool, but that also could mean they come at a price. That’s the case with the foldable phone concept too.

After the buzz of getting a new out-of-this-world-looking device wears off, you start to realize that this design has not improved your user experience in almost any aspect. And there are many areas where the iPhone is simply the better phone.

For example, Apple’s processors are way ahead of the competition. Yesterday I was looking at data that shows the two-year-old iPhone 12 with its A14 chip is still in many scenarios more powerful than Snapdragon’s 8 Gen 1 chip which powers most of Samsung’s current flagship phones.

It is often the same when it comes to camera systems. While I must admit the Galaxy S22 Ultra is pretty on par with the Pro iPhone, that isn’t the case with the rest of Samsung’s lineup. Apple is still the king when it comes to things like video recording, and it is arguably also better at simply taking a picture by someone who isn’t a tech guru.

The ‘it just works’ Apple mantra is the gift that keeps on giving, and makes for an incomparable reputation and user following.

Another surprising thing about the iPhone is the fact that it is even more affordable than Samsung’s phones. Who would’ve guessed that could happen five years ago? The Galaxy S22 Ultra is $100 more expensive than Apple’s top-of-the-range iPhone 14 Pro Max. The same goes for the Galaxy S22 Plus compared to the upcoming iPhone 14 Plus. Of course, that’s only the case in North America, as iPhones did see a price increase in Europe this year.

But in the USA, the smaller Galaxy S22 seems to match the price of the iPhone 14, but it also offers inferior battery life, processor, and camera system. You can guess which lineup gives you more value.

But after all, this article is about foldable phones. So what about those? Well, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is $700 more expensive than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, while the Galaxy Z Flip 4 costs $200 more than the iPhone 14. As you can see, the situation looks very dull for Samsung. How can the iPhone be threatened with Samsung’s current pricing? You guessed it, it can’t.

Apple might think foldable phones are flawed

Let’s take a look at what foldable phones are actually about. There are three established design languages for foldable phones. These are the clamshell-style foldable, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4, the inward folding foldable with an additional outer display, like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, and the outer folding foldable phone, like the Huawei Mate Xs 2.

All of these concepts have their pros, but most importantly, each of these has its big cons too. The Galaxy Z Flip 4, for example, is pocketable, but that comes at the hefty price of being less ergonomic and having less impressive battery life and cameras.

When it comes to the Galaxy Z Fold 4, the problem should be clear the minute you make a phone call with it. It is very heavy and twice as thick as an iPhone. This means that it makes compromises when it comes to being both a good phone and a good tablet.. This doesn’t mean that it is a bad device, it is actually one of the best there is, it’s just that you’ve gotta have a certain lifestyle to benefit from this form factor. I am not surprised that Apple isn’t making these big trade-offs on its iPhone or iPad, as the company is notorious for taking its time and a conscious approach to new hardware innovations.

With Huawei's Mate Xs 2, things are a bit different. This phone isn’t as thick and heavy as the Z Fold 4, but it still isn’t anywhere near as comfortable to hold as a regular phone.

But I haven’t even included the two biggest flaws of foldable phones. In order for the screen to fold, you have to be left with an unappealing crease in the middle. This crease gets further pronounced with time, and it starts to interfere with the screen experience even more.

It also gives a weird feeling when interacting with the screen, as the crease protrudes enough to feel it with your fingers. This is especially irritating when typing, using gestures, scrolling, and playing games. Imagine any Apple device with a crease in the middle of its screen. There’s almost no chance this device makes it out of the company’s design labs.

Of course, not everybody feels so negatively about the hinge. For example, my colleague Rado Minkov, wrote in his Z Fold 4 review that he doesn’t mind the crease that much. That’s cool if you think it is a small price to pay for the advantages you get. But I doubt that most people will ever take enough advantage of this folding form factor to forgive for the uncomfortable feeling crease and huge weight.

And because of the hinge, there are also reliability issues foldable devices face. These include worse or no water and dust resistance at all, which means that a foldable phone can’t last nearly as long as a regular one hardware-wise. Their screens are also way easier to scratch. And considering Apple’s users tend to hold onto their devices for much longer than Samsung’s, this is probably the deal breaker for the Cupertino company.

Apple could go for rollable phones or something entirely new

Remember the LG Rollable? This phone concept almost made it to the shelves, but the Korean tech giant opted to pull the plug on its phone business instead. Still, the concept looked very impressive.

A screen that rolls out, becomes bigger, and gives you a whole new form factor? That’s like something from a science fiction movie. It also looks more sturdy than a foldable screen, and most importantly, it is crease-less.

So will Apple make a rollable iPhone soon? Well, that depends on what soon means to you. I don’t think the iPhone will go through such drastic changes anytime in the next three to five years. Apple will first need to figure out if its users will truly gain from having this flashy and expensive new hardware. If it does come up with amazing ways to take advantage of a rollable screen, it could go in that direction.

But I used the word ‘amazing’ for a reason. If Apple doesn't come up with that many gains for iOS with this form factor, the company could go something else instead.

And what is that, you may ask? There’s this perception in some people of Apple not being innovative enough, and waiting on others to perfect a new technology and then grab it and make it even better. And while that’s been true in the past, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong in stealing the good stuff, people need to remember one thing.

Apple is the most valuable company in the world, and its net worth is in the thousands of billions. Do you really believe that it is resting on all this money and waiting for others to pave the future?

For years now, there have been reports about the Cupertino company developing an Apple Car. There’s no way it isn’t doing the same for the future of its most profitable product. Apple is good at avoiding leaks, and that’s why people can have such a wrong perception of the company’s development initiatives.

This means that Apple can have something cooking in its kitchen that no one has thought of yet. Actually, judging by how big this company is, it probably has several, if not many concepts for future smart devices in the works that could reinvent the modern smartphone.

But you know how Apple is. This company will always take its time when it comes to innovation. After all, this is how it got so far ahead in the game in the first place. Apple is the one that holds most, if not all of the cards, and underestimating it is foolish.

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