Apple's Foldable Phone: A Game-Changer or a Day Late and a Dollar Short?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Is Apple late to the foldable phone party?
Apple has been a leader in innovation for many years, but lately, the company seems to have lost its edge. While competitors like Samsung and Huawei have been releasing foldable phones for years now, and new players such as Oppo, Vivo, and Honor have also joined the party, Apple has yet to announce a prototype.

Is Apple stuck in the dressing room for far too long and about to miss the whole party? The company is playing a dangerous game. One that could lead to a great shift in the smartphone market share distribution and potentially change the status quo. But the matter is much more complex than that!

Foldable phones are the future (don't mind the naysayers)

Back in the day, when Royole showed its FlexPai prototype, everyone laughed, and then they stopped laughing when Samsung decided it was actually a neat idea and launched the first Galaxy Fold device.

Now, a few generations down the line, there are still skeptics who wave the banner of a foldable Apocalypse like a $100 off Costco coupon. And, to be honest, I was one of those skeptics (barring the coupon), but lately, a bunch of magical apostles (that's an Honor Magic Vs reference right there) have converted me to the foldable faith.

But don't take my word for it. Let's quickly glance through the revenue and market share tied to the most popular foldable devices out there. According to Counterpoint Research’s Global Foldable Smartphone Market Forecast, Q3 2022, the global foldable smartphone market is expected to reach 22.7 million units in 2023.

Even though this is still less than 2% of all smartphone shipments, it is more than 20% of all shipments of devices that cost $1,000 or more (ultra-premium segment). Given that Apple sells its devices in that price segment (the iPhone 13 Pro Max and 14 Pro Max were in the top 3 best-selling smartphones last year), the potential damages could be substantial.

To add insult to injury, last year Samsung scored 62% of all foldables sold in H1, and as we all know, the Korean company is Apple's main rival. Granted, Apple fans will probably buy the company's first foldable when it comes to the market, but every month of delay raises the chance for those fans to end up with a Galaxy Fold or Flip in their hands.

Technical challenges have been (almost) overcome

The first ever foldable phone (the aforementioned Royole FlexPai) had a gap when folded that was big enough to stick your arm through. Now, a couple of years later, there are several gapless designs on the market; clearly, the companies are starting to get a hold of it.

Next to go is the dreadful display crease, and while it's still “a work in progress,” I've tested the outward-folding Huawei Mate Xs2, and there was no crease at all. None. Different designs, that's true, but I think it's just a matter of "when,” not "if,” for the crease to disappear from all foldables out there.

Durability is not a real issue anymore, and some of these foldable phones now sport IP water and dust protection ratings. And while others are perfecting their designs, Apple just waits?

Playing it safe vs playing it dirty

Apple has been playing it safe for the past few years by releasing small updates to its existing products and not adding any features that would change the game. This approach may have worked in the past, but it might not be enough when applied to the foldable situation.

I don't underestimate the company, don't get me wrong, even Samsung made a few wrong moves with its first-gen foldable (some Fold displays not only unfolded but also peeled off). The first filed patents and rumors of Apple working on a foldable iPhone date back to 2021. The latest speculation is that the foldable iPhone has been delayed until 2025.

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On the one hand, four years may be enough time for Apple to get it right on the first try, but 2025 is still a long way off. Now, many of you might ask: “Okay, Apple is playing it safe, but what does it mean to play dirty?" What's that clickbaity subheading of yours?"

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 next to the Honor Magic Vs

Well, I won’t say it’s about copying the competition, but let’s be honest. When the first Fold generations hit the market, the design inspired many Chinese manufacturers to look for similar (and even better) solutions.

Apple could’ve done the same, easily. Look around for inspiration. There aren’t that many foldable designs that work, and if Apple actually did it (or the company is doing it as I type this), then I can’t fathom why it’s taking so long.

Brand recognition might not be enough

Okay, Apple is probably biding its time, probably relying on loyal fans and the recognition the brand has across the globe and especially in the US. It might not be enough this time. We all know that in the US the duopoly is pretty strong, and we won’t delve into politics to try and dissect the reasons behind it.

The fact of the matter is that Samsung is Apple’s main competitor, and it will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future. And Samsung is miles ahead with its foldables, both in terms of know-how and market penetration.

The sheer fact that when people say "fold," they picture a Samsung Galaxy Fold device speaks for itself. Clever branding, and there’s something else too. Samsung is pretty conservative with its foldable lineup, in terms of pricing, aggressive marketing, and so on. Mainly because the company has no real competition in the US.

The moment Apple shows its foldable iPhones, be absolutely sure that Samsung will cut prices, offer even better trade-in deals, and put its marketing department on steroids. At the moment, the fruit is just hanging too low.

Final rites (words)

The situation looks more bleak than it actually is. If there’s something Apple’s good at, it's marketing. The company has probably done its homework and calculated the market growth of foldable devices to pick the best time to enter the stage.

And if this time happens to be 2025, well, we have to wait. This piece might seem like a negative rant toward Apple, but it actually isn’t. The company has a tremendous impact on the industry and the ability to shift the direction of technological winds.

The moment Apple launches its foldable iPhone, the market will change, that’s for sure. And we need this, whether or not we’re going to buy the iPhone F for $2000 or whatever. So, is Apple late to the foldable party? Probably yes, but as a guest of honor, everybody’s still waiting.

What do you think about it? Drop by and leave a comment in the section below!

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