Foldable phones will really take off when Apple makes one

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Foldable phones will really take off when Apple makes one
Foldable phones are still a niche market, albeit a growing one, spearheaded by Samsung's latest Galaxy Z Gold 3 and Z Flip 3 entrants. It is looking increasingly likely that Apple will have to get on with the program and most analysts point at 2023 as the release year of Apple's first foldable handset that is supposedly of the iPhone Flip type.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

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Apple could mainstream foldable phones

We'd argue that if and when Apple releases its first foldable iPhone, its brand clout will be the main reason to mark it as the year of the foldable phones in earnest. Just look at this Apple-ified Z Fold 3 mockup and it becomes immediately clear why.

When Apple releases a foldable phone, pundits will line up extolling the virtue of foldable phones, CNBC and Bloomberg analysts will start calculating the size of the market Apple is entering, and its stock price will go up, all the while we will have had quality foldables for a good 5 years by then.

It's a familiar song and dance with Apple - it waits for a market to innovate itself, mature, diversify component suppliers enough to allow high margins, and swoops in with a surprise take or the software to back new usage scenarios. Apple gets away with selling midrange specs at high-end prices precisely because it has created an aura around its name in the manner what haute couture French or Italian fashion brands have done, but that's just a part of it.

There is little doubt that Apple product buyers behave as if it's a luxury company even though it ostensibly isn't Gucci, Ferrari, or, erm, the sum of its Hermès AirTags that cost $449 for a piece of "heritage Barénia leather with contrasted saddle stitching."

Even without hitching their wagon to a brand like Hermès, however, Apple products are priced way above the sum of their parts, yet it keeps pulling off record quarters. How does the company do it?

  • Quality user-centric products and ecosystem synergy: Steve Jobs was not the first to put a computer in your pocket but he made it easy to use and Apple kept adding to the ecosystem of such 'it just works' products with focus on design, software, and performance, mostly with success so far.
  • Emotional attachment: Steve Jobs made sure to sell people an entry to an exclusive world with cult-like secrecy around its inner workings. Heck, it took the iPad Pro 2021 specs for Apple to cite how much RAM it puts in its gear!
  • It's a self-fulfilling patriotic prophecy in the world's most media-covered market, for better or worse, and half of the US users now carry iPhones, amplifying its message further.
  • Brand clout: Apple is the most successful brand in the world's most visible and impact-heavy market. If your country had a company like Apple, would you still buy iPhones instead? 

People would flip over an iPhone Flip

By now, it's clear that Apple may be working on not one, but two foldable phone models; one of the Z Fold 3's vertically bending type, and an iPhone Flip that will fold horizontally like the clamshell phones of yesteryear. The iPhone Flip's release has also been tipped for some time in 2023, but what will it add to the budding niche then? 

Granted, the rumors are that the iPhone Flip would have a larger, 7.6" display but at the time the 6.7" Z Flip 3 specs will have leveled up twice and it may grow up in display size, too. Ditto for the reported "etched" iPhone Flip display that will make the whole thing much thinner - by 2023 Samsung's foldables could be much thinner in closed state, too.

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What then, will be the other unique value proposition that Apple adds to foldables to justify what would inevitably be a price much higher than the Pro Max model at that time? Why, a polished foldable phone software that might be years in the making (nudge, wink, multitasking at long last), and the logo on the back, of course. That same logo may very well end up its chief added value, too.

Love it or leave it, an iPhone Flip will most likely light a fuse under the foldable phones market niche that could explode in market share afterwards. For a lot of people Apple will then become synonymous with foldable phones, even though Samsung would have been making them for five years at that point. We've seen this scenario play over and over, but maybe this time will be different. What do you think?

Will a foldable iPhone mainstream the form factor?

No, foldables will remain a niche form factor
Samsung will make foldables mainstream before an iPhone Flip
Yes, a foldable iPhone will make the category truly popular

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