- Tech companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Motorola are among the first to launch foldable smartphones.
- But today’s foldable phones are still noticeably more expensive than standard phones, and it’s clear that companies are still refining their ideas.
- Plus, there still isn’t any evidence that customers are actually interested in foldable phones.
- If Apple does release a foldable phone, it’s likely to wait until the market has matured a bit more as it has done with other products like smartwatches.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Apple essentially invented the modern smartphone with the original iPhone in 2007. Now, companies like Samsung, Huawei, Microsoft, and Motorola are racing to figure out what comes next by launching phones that can bend and fold into different forms.
But Apple is nowhere to be found.
There are several good reasons why Apple hasn’t entered the foldable phone market just yet.
Foldable phones have barely been on the market for a year. And during that time, it’s become clear that phone makers are still ironing out the kinks and growing pains that come with developing a new type of computer.
Take Microsoft as an example. The PC giant’s anticipated $1,400 Surface Duo, which has two screens joined together by a folding hinge, received middling reviews for its buggy software and lackluster camera.
But perhaps the most obvious signal that foldable phones are not yet ready for prime time is their launch cycles. Samsung is already on its third foldable phone (fourth if you count the 5G version of its Galaxy Z Flip) after just launching its first one about one year ago. The original Samsung Galaxy Fold also endured a months-long delay in 2019 because of issues with the screen breaking after it folded.
Motorola, too, just announced a new version of its foldable Razr flip phone little more than six months after launching the original. The new model comes with support for 5G, an improved camera, and other upgrades.
These erratic launch cycles suggest that foldable phones are still in somewhat of an experimental stage. Consumers may not feel confident purchasing a foldable phone knowing that a better version may launch less than a year from now.
But one of the biggest reasons Apple may be holding off on foldable phones is also the simplest: There’s no evidence yet that people actually want them.
Market research firm Gartner predicts that foldable phones will account for less than 5% of high-end phones by 2023, and Strategy Analytics says that foldable phone shipments will hit just 100 million by 2025. That may sound like a high number, but consider that The International Data Corporation predicted that total smartphone shipments for 2019 would reach 1.38 billion.
Chances are slim that Apple will be joining the foldable phone craze anytime soon. The company has a reputation for being first to market, but for refining existing product categories and popularizing them.
Look to the Apple Watch as an example. Apple was far from being the first tech company to launch a smartwatch, but it’s now the market leader, according to estimates from Canalys and Counterpoint Research.
In other instances, Apple has waited until a category has matured before bringing it to its own lineup. Apple launched its first big-screened iPhones with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from 2014, for example, long after Android smartphones had offered roomier displays. Those models were regarded as being among Apple’s most successful iPhones.
And there are some products that Apple simply hasn’t tried yet despite the interest of its rivals. For example, Apple has yet to release an augmented or virtual reality headset, although rumors and reports suggest such a device is in the works. Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, and Facebook have all delved into the space in one way or another, either with standalone VR headsets, helmets tethered to computers, or headsets that merge the aspects of virtual and augmented reality.
There’s plenty of speculation that Apple could indeed be working on a foldable iPhone. Apple has several patents for devices with flexible and foldable screens, one of which has a display that wraps around the entire phone. Analysts at UBS have also written that Apple could release a foldable mobile device by 2021 after analyzing the company’s intellectual property filings. A leak from notable Samsung leaker “Ice Universe” also recently claimed that the South Korean tech giant had supplied Apple with displays for prototyping foldable iPhones.
Apple isn’t the only tech giant biding its time. Google also hasn’t made any mention of plans to release a foldable version of its Pixel phone yet, although 9to5Google reports that the company may be working on one.
“I don’t think that the product is quite innovative enough yet,” Mario Queiroz, the former Google executive that previously oversaw the company’s Pixel division, told Business Insider in May 2019. “Just folding your phone, that’s interesting, and turning it into a tablet, there’s some incremental benefit to it, but it’s not like that breakthrough thing where you say, ‘Wow this is something that’s very different.'”
Despite the early hiccups, there’s promise in foldable phones. I wrote that the Surface Duo just didn’t perform well enough as a phone to replace your current smartphone, but I loved using it as a secondary display and for reading books. The Galaxy Z Fold 2’s ability to double as a phone and a tablet makes it great for times when I want a bigger screen — perhaps for reading the news or checking email — but don’t want to reach for my tablet or laptop.
The smartphone hasn’t meaningfully changed since its introduction. Yes, phones have gotten much faster, their cameras now rival those of professional setups, and their screens have become much sharper and crisper. But the overall form factor is long overdue for an update, and it’s exciting to see the industry providing a glimpse at what’s to come.
Just don’t expect to see Apple joining the fold anytime soon.
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