OPINION: If there’s been one overarching theme of flagship smartphones in 2023, I’d argue it’s been the rise of the foldable phone.
This year, numerous phone makers have launched some sort of foldable including Samsung, Oppo, Motorola, Honor and Google, with OnePlus heavily tipped to jump on the bandwagon in the coming months. As a result, it’s no longer possible to call foldables an early trial run, with the Samsung Galaxy Fold already entering its 5th generation.
And despite the foldable screen becoming the hottest trend in the smartphone world, there’s still no sign of Apple launching its own take on the technology. Typically reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested (via 9to5Mac) that Apple is working on an iPhone Fold, but it may not be available to buy until 2025.
This has opened Apple up to criticism, with many suggesting that the iPhone maker is putting itself at risk of falling behind the competition, especially compared to Samsung which is several iterations ahead.
However, I personally think that Apple is right to delay. An iPhone Fold is inevitable, but I still believe that it’s too soon for Tim Cook and co to make the leap. The main reason for this is that foldable phones still feel like they’re in their infancy, with many issues still needing to be rectified.
One of the biggest issues that plague foldable phones is the creasing caused by the screen’s constant flexing. The likes of Samsung have made strides in reducing the severity of these crease marks, but as noted in our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, they’re still visibly present.
But Apple is a company that obsesses over perfection, seemingly unwilling to launch a budget range of phones (like Samsung does with its A series) in fear that it could damage its reputation as a premium brand. As a result, Apple is rarely happy to rush out a phone with a cutting-edge feature ahead of its rivals – it prefers to bide its time to launch the absolute best take on that technology instead.
I imagine Apple would only want to launch an iPhone Fold if it’s able to eradicate the creasing issue, or at least make it so that it’s not so visible. There are other foldable pitfalls that Apple will want to avoid. The hinge mechanism has been a sore point, as the Google Pixel Fold can’t unfold flat unless applying firm pressure. This causes the phone to wobble on its spine, which is hardly ideal.
The biggest issue of all, in my opinion, is the limited software support. The current selection of foldable phones access the exact same app library of standard candybar phones, and software isn’t always optimised to make the most of the increased size and aspect ratio of the larger screens allowed by the foldable form.
Despite Google being the maker of Android, it’s struggled to encourage developers to optimise apps for foldable phones thus far. In our review, we noticed that even the likes of Facebook, Instagram and major banking apps lacked native support, and so won’t appear in full-screen mode.
Other phone makers – such as Samsung, Huawei and Oppo – instead allow you to force Android apps into a fullscreen mode, whether there’s native support or not. This is a compromised solution though, lacking the polish you’d expect from a phone that costs upwards of £1000/$1000.
Since Apple’s iOS software is so intrinsically tied to the iPhone experience, I’m sure Apple would be more reluctant to make compromises. The Dynamic Island feature is one of the few recent iPhone features I can recall that doesn’t have full app support across the board at launch. But when using such apps that lack support for the Dynamic Island, it doesn’t negatively impact the overall experience.
Having a cropped view of an app when using a phone is a different kettle of fish. What’s the point in spending all of that money for a foldable phone when third-party apps won’t be able to natively enter fullscreen mode? Apple will not only want to ensure all of its first-party apps are supported but also all of the most popular third-party applications which is no easy task.
That’s a lot of important considerations to make when designing a foldable phone. When entering new product categories, tech companies are generally afforded a little patience, as teething issues are expected. But Apple is arguably put under more scrutiny than most brands, and it will want to get it as close to perfect as possible on the first attempt. For that reason 2023 still feels too early for Apple to finally launch a foldable phone.