Is the foldable phone trend just a fad? Apple has a valid point

Is the foldable phone trend just a fad? Apple has a valid point

It’s so far been my assumption that the same will happen with a folding iPhone, but a notable Apple leaker yesterday raised another possibility. Namely that Apple is considering the possibility that folding phones may turn out to be a passing fad. According to Dylan, who has built a strong reputation within the Apple community in 2021, Apple is “definitely working and testing multiple prototypes that contain foldable displays.” The leaker points out that are still “too many compromises with display technology,” so it’s still unclear whether the company will ever launch a foldable iPhone.

For a long time, folding phones have been one of the first important form factor advances in smartphones, but Apple has avoided the temptation to join in. That’s not surprising: the company’s standard operating procedure for new products is to wait and see how other firms launch their versions before attempting to leapfrog them with a version that does it perfectly.

Highlights

  • In my view, there are two factors at work here. First, the undoubted theoretical benefits of a folding phone. Second, weaknesses that may be extremely difficult to overcome. I noted these a couple of years ago, and I’m not entirely convinced that much has changed since then.

  • There are also concerns as to whether foldable smartphones will continue to have a place in the market or will fall into obsolescence. Therefore, Apple is intent on carefully observing the market and improving upon the mistakes of their competitors.

I’m not going to be buying one, and nor would I even if it ran iOS. That’s just too much money for too clunky a device. There’s only one reason Samsung launched the Fold now, and that’s so it can claim to have been first to market (though Royole may dispute the claim).

Other than admiring the technical achievement, I’m not at all sold on the Galaxy Fold. In closed form, it’s a pretty chunky-looking device. In fact, it doesn’t look dramatically different to the clamshell-style smartphones I used back in the pre-iPhone days. And the huge forehead and chin on the front also contribute to an old-fashioned appearance.

I’m even less persuaded by Huawei’s insanely-priced scratch-magnet. I don’t expect either phone to be a commercial success – and in truth, I suspect Samsung and Huawei share that view. Right now, they want to say the were pioneers of an innovative new technology, and they want the halo effect from that to help sell more realistically-priced models. I did note that instead of an iPhone that unfolds into an iPad, Apple could take the 2019 Motorola Razr approach, of an extremely pocketable device that unfolds into a large phone. Our poll suggested this might be the more popular approach.

But although we’ve had more foldable phones since then, it’s clear that they haven’t set the world ablaze. All the signs point to them selling in very small numbers, and despite living in a large city and having a lot of techy friends, I have yet to see a single folding phone in the wild.

So I do think a case can be made that folding phones are indeed a passing fad. That they have enough wow factor to be superficially appealing, but perhaps not enough practical benefit to persuade people to accept the compromises they entail. I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that Apple will never make a folding iPhone; I do still think it’s possible. But I also think it’s sensible to wait a bit longer to see whether the form factor turns out to represent the future of smartphones, or just a niche product that will never generate mass-market appeal no matter how well it is designed.