As Samsung continues to advance and push foldable devices as the next big thing in mobile technology, many people wonder if Apple has been working on a foldable iPhone as well. At this point, Apple is four years behind Samsung and other OEMs that have worked on foldable phones, and it begs the question: Is Apple waiting too long to make a foldable phone?
As we’ve seen so many times, Apple works on its own schedule. It often introduces features that Android phones have had for years (opens in new tab) – occasionally introduce something innovative, such as Dynamic Island (opens in new tab) or emergency SOS satellite connection (opens in new tab) — and usually introduces them as if they never existed in the past.
They won’t be able to do this with something as physically obvious as a foldable phone, but there’s little doubt that Apple will make huge waves when it possibly releases its first foldables. But will it really matter by the time they get to it, and will Apple users even care?
Stealing great artists
When the iPhone was first announced, it promised a revolutionary experience unlike any smartphone that came before it. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but reinvented it, to quote Steve Jobs himself.
At the time, many experts wondered whether or not the phone would take off. After all, it couldn’t even record video, and Jobs’s play with smarter software didn’t extend beyond what was included with the phone—there were no apps to install, despite other smartphones offering that option.
To further that idea, the iPhone didn’t invent the modern touchscreen aesthetic. That honor actually goes to the LG Prada, which launched last year in 2006 and not only had the now standard look of a full-screen smartphone without a keyboard, but also brought capacitive touch technology to the market.
But LG’s weak marketing was no match for Apple’s prowess. Plus, the obvious user interface improvements that came with the iPhone—along with Jobs’s usual fondness for words like “revolutionary” and “magic”—helped advance Apple’s product in a way others hadn’t. even if it’s not the first product of its kind in every way.
Fast-forward to more than a decade later and Samsung introduced the world’s first commercially available foldable phone. While it didn’t offer a substantial user interface improvement or some revolutionary software feature to claim its name, it did offer something consumers couldn’t buy before: glass that can bend without breaking.
Just as it has done with screens over the years, Samsung pioneered ultra-thin glass that offers designers a new way to deliver a full-screen phone without the extra bulk that comes with a modern smartphone size.
But since Samsung clearly “borrowed” from Apple’s user interface innovations more than a decade ago, it’s highly likely that Apple will “borrow” Samsung’s screens and foldable technology when it finally announces a foldable iPhone sometime in the future.
The difference this time around is that Samsung wins regardless of who is ultimately crowned the winner of the foldable phone wars. That’s because Samsung makes almost every foldable screen you’ll find on the market today – with the exception of BOE Display, a Chinese company that makes foldable screens for Motorola Razr and Huawei’s foldable devices.
TCL and Royole – two other manufacturers of foldable displays – have not yet introduced a successful consumer product with a foldable display. Based on what we know, that won’t change anytime soon.
Will Apple reinvent the foldable phone?
History often repeats itself and logically you would wonder whether or not Apple will do that reinvent the foldable phone when he finally launches one in the future. So what’s taking so long and will Apple be late to make a difference?
I spoke to Ben Bajarin, CEO and principal analyst at Creative Strategies in California, who says he thinks, “Apple is still working on the technology issues surrounding this product and will not release anything until they believe it exceeds their quality bar at all levels.”
If I had to guess, I’d say Apple is probably waiting for the screen crease to be almost nonexistent or completely gone. After all, we’ve already established that current-generation Samsung foldable phones are incredibly strong (opens in new tab) and can withstand hundreds of thousands of folds (opens in new tab) before you need some TLC.
“Since patents have surfaced around this form factor from Apple,” Bajarin says, “it shows they’re looking into it, but it’s likely they don’t think either the technology or the market is ready yet.”
Last year saw Samsung’s biggest sales surge ever, mainly thanks to the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and this year the Galaxy Z Flip 4 (opens in new tab) is slated to sell even more units. Samsung sold about 10 million foldables last year. Although that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the total 235.7 million phones Samsung sold in 2021 (opens in new tab)it’s about half the number of Galaxy S21 phones they’ve sold, which makes the number that much more impressive in context.
Still, Samsung’s best-selling line is the Galaxy A series, which often makes our list of the best cheap Android phones (opens in new tab) every year.
By comparison, Apple sold 233 million iPhones in 2013, with the top five models being premium phones with high price tags and higher profit margins.
I asked Bajarin if the profit margins might be what’s stopping Apple from releasing a foldable at this point, but he thought not and said “not necessarily, they can charge enough for something like this if they want to keep their margins.” I think the main problem is that they just don’t think the technology or the experience is ready for the mass market.”
After all, if Samsung can get away with charging nearly $2,000 for its most premium foldable, Apple sure can.
Better late than never
In many ways, being late to a party in the tech sphere is not a bad thing. You give other companies time to work out the kinks—literally in some cases—and come out as a hero when you get a product right the first time.
It’s entirely possible that people wouldn’t consider foldable phones vulnerable if Samsung got it right out of the gate. If you remember, the first generation Galaxy Fold has serious durability issues, was recalled and eventually replaced with a better product. But that first impression stays in people’s minds, and Samsung has had to do a lot of repair work over the past four generations to make sure its foldable devices are ready for real life.
When Apple eventually releases a foldable iPhone — and it absolutely will — sales will almost certainly eclipse that of a foldable iPhone. Apple may not have the world’s largest market share in phones – only 233 million of the 1.39 billion units sold in 2021 were iPhones – but it does have the largest volume of premium phone sales of any company, which is exactly what a foldable phone is today. A premium device.
As Bajarin puts it, “Apple’s customers are extremely loyal because they have one of the most loyal customer bases of any company.” When the foldable iPhone becomes a hit, it’s going to be a big hit, and that’s about all that needs to be said about it.